Due Process in a Superhero Universe

Tuesday night George and I were having a long conversation via text.  (Yes, Mr. Wordstar is a texting monster.  He’s the reason I had to go with unlimited texting.)  Truthfully we should have just picked up the phone and talked, but oh well.

Anyway, GRRM wanted to know if I had watched the latest episode of The Flash yet.  I hadn’t because of the time difference between L.A. and Santa Fe,  but we ended up talking about how the Star Labs Scooby gang keep locking people up in the basement in tiny rooms that appear to have no bed, no toilet, and that we never see them get a meal.  George asked if this bothered me?

My response — oh Hell yes!  Especially since one of the characters is a police officer and supposedly a good cop and a good man.

I understand this is fantasy and that super villains have enormous powers, BUT that doesn’t mean we throw out the Constitution with its guarantees of Due Process, right to a speedy trial, legal counsel.  I think they get away with it on The Flash because Barry seems so sweet and kind and approachable and the kids in the gang are all so cute.  Or you take the other approach and allow Jim Gordon in Gotham to become a vigilante cop which pretty much undermines the nature of the character.  But none of these disguise the fact that what is occurring is a grotesque undermining of the rule of law.

Yes, it’ makes things harder if you have to think about and address these issues, but that makes for good story telling and better writing.  To do otherwise is just lazy.  I can promise you if we even get Wild Cards going as a TV series we’re not going to dodge these tough questions and even tougher solutions.

Comparisons

After writing for most of yesterday and staying warm while the rain and wind battered the house I decided to spend the evening on a movie binge.  Guardians of the Galaxy was on followed by Avengers — Ultron.  Boy is Guardians a _much_ better movie than Ultron. There was a seed of a good movie in among all the endless and often pointless action sequences in Ultron, but it gasped and died under the weight of the CGI action.
I noticed something else.  When Whedon thinks something is going off the rails he has a tendency to just tell you in the dialog.  It happened back in a later episode of ANGEL.  Angel and some of his Scooby gang have gone into a magical bookstore, and Angel is asking the proprietor a question.  I don’t remember the details, just that there was a lot of hand waving and nonsense being spouted and Angel then says, “You’re just making this shit up now, aren’t you?”  Or words to that effect.  That was at a time when the series was really flailing and floundering.
And Whedon did it again in Ultron when he gives Hawkeye the line to the Scarlet Witch.  “We’re fighting an army of robots — and I have a bow and arrow.”  He then goes on to add, “None of this makes sense.”  You were so right Clint.
Contrast all that frenzied action with Guardians.  Yes, there is action in the movie, but we learn more about the characters in everyone of those scenes — Rocket wants the guy’s leg because it would be funny, Gamora’s resigned statement “I’m going to die with the biggest idiots in the galaxy.”  How Peter will try to fast talk his way out of situations before resorting to fighting.  How Drax is so literal minded that he can’t understand a metaphor.  That apparently everyone in the galaxy apart from Peter, Rocket and the Ravagers are irony impaired.
What the two films do have in common is that at their heart is an ordinary man — Hawkeye in Avengers, Peter in Guardians.  Maybe that’s why I like to write about “nats” in the Wild Cards universe.  Ordinary people who can still be heroes.  There was exemplified in that underwhelming Superman Returns reboot back in 2006.  The one thing that worked in that movie was the role of Lois’s boyfriend, Richard White.  He proved to be just as heroic as the Man of Steel as he fought to save the life of the woman he loved and her child.  That was the most emotionally satisfying moment in the film.
Maybe it’s because there are just too damn many characters that have to be serviced in the Avengers films.  Which seems to be the case because the smaller movies are working better — Ant Man, Guardians, the Captain America films, the first Iron Man, Thor.
I point out these problems in the hope they find a way to address them before the next big blockbuster hits the screen.  I love these superhero franchises.  I watch Agents of SHIELD, and The Flash, and Arrow, and Legends, etc. etc.  I’ve enjoyed many of the movies, but I hope there aren’t too many more Ultrons in the pipeline.

Sticking the Landing

I’m tiptoeing up on the final chapter of the next novel in the Imperials series. Usually approaching the end of a novel feels like a toboggan ride, but this one has me groping my way toward the conclusion. I think it’s a combination of things.  I can see the final scenes and how to present them if this were a movie where the camera itself can be a point of view but because this is a novel I have to present it through the eyes of one of the two view point characters.  In this case that my heroine’s eyes, and that pulls the focus in very close when it should be galaxy wide. This is also a huge moment that has repercussions for the third book so I have to set it up correctly and hopefully it will have a gut punch feeling.  No, I’m not doing a George and killing a beloved character…. not yet, but this needs to make an impact.  In fact now that I’m typing this I realize I may have given too much away in an earlier scene.  (Note to self — go back and check that before I get into today’s writing.)
 
In some ways we’d all be better off if an author could finish a novel series before the first one ever gets published. I’m grateful I’ll have a chance to tweak things in the first book before it actually goes to print because the more I write about the characters and the universe the more I understand it.  I have to make adjustments to the first book so things line up and aren’t confusing to readers.  Little things like what objects are called, and that hombres are enlisted men aboard a star ship and fusileros are the marines assigned to those ships.  Thank god for Scrivener where I can keep a list of organizations and what they call the galactic internet.  I also have this ever growing list of characters because the only way a series like this can work is if people we met in book one come back in meaningful ways in the subsequent books.  It does feel like playing catch up and it will continue until all five are completed
I also have to make sure this book ties up well and has a satisfying ending, but still keeps people anxious to see what happens next.  Especially since I’m about to make a jump of fifteen or sixteen years.  I made a three year jump at the beginning of book two, and a seven year jump in the middle of this book.  I think it’s important that long series not feel like the author is keeping a daily journal in a role playing game.  I try to keep very focused on the idea that I should just write about the cool shit and leave out all the boring stuff.  The years a character might serve aboard ship without incident aren’t very interesting.
So now I’ve had my moment on my blog psychiatrist’s couch and now I need to hesitantly approach these final moves.  Ciao and wish me luck.

Very Cool Wild Cards Audio Book News

Folks may or may not know that Random House Audio is doing our Wild Cards books and has made the very exciting decision to hire different actors for the various characters instead of one reader for the entire book.  The line up for JOKER’S WILD is as follows:

Prentice Onayemi, reading Fortunato,
Pam Grier, reading Roulette,
Molly Quinn, reading Wraith,
Ray Porter, reading Sewer Jack,
Felicia Day, reading Bagabond,
Stephen McHattie, reading Demise,
Ron Donachie, reading Hiram Worchester.

As if that wasn’t enough for me to be totally jazzed I just learned that Raphael Sbarge is going to be reading Dr. Tachyon in ACES ABROAD and DOWN AND DIRTY.  Those of you fellow game geeks will recognize him as the voice of Kaidan Alenko in Mass Effect and Carth Onasi in Knights of the Old Republic.  I had requested Raphael to read Tachyon and I couldn’t be more excited.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I went over to the Cinépolis last night for a second watch of The Force Awakens, and I’m ready to discuss the movie.  There are going to be a SPOILERS so if you hate SPOILERS and if for some reason you haven’t managed to see this film yet don’t read anymore because there are going to be SPOILERS!!!!!!!!  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

I had seen the film on opening day with Len Wein and Chris Valada.  As with the first J.J. Abrams Star Trek film I liked the “feel” of the movie.  What I hadn’t expected was that the structure is basically identical to episode IV A New Hope.  (Or as I know it — Star Wars because I saw it on opening day back in 1977.  Okay, maybe it wasn’t actually the first day since the theater had added a midnight showing of the movie to accommodate all the crowds so technically it was the second day.)  Point being I love Star Wars.  I saw the original film six or seven times while I was taking the bar review course and studying for the bar exam.  Star Wars kept me sane.  I even managed to pass the bar and I give Star Wars some of the credit for that.  But I digress.

Back to this latest film.  Well, compared to the three prequel films it was Shakespeare.  During my first viewing I was taken aback by the constant call backs to the first film.  “I’ve got a bad feeling about this”, the similar beats to the first movie — everybody looking for a Droid that has a piece of critical information, a desert planet, an alien bar with an alien jazz band, a honking big weapon that brave X-Wing pilots have to destroy. 

There are differences.  In the original film Luke can’t wait to get off Tatooine.  In Awakens Rey wants to stay and even keeps trying to get back to her desert world.  The similarities are that both of them are great pilots and unknowingly strong in the Force.

I really appreciated that we got to see the world from the point of view of a storm trooper and Finn is a darling.  I also really liked the fact he wasn’t a top commander or something special.  He was a janitor.

Poe is sexy and fun.  I liked the fact that he couldn’t resist our villain’s Force powers, but Rey could.  That was a nice touch.

It was a relief to see women in roles other then princess and slave.  It was also great to see an ethnically diverse cast.

I thought the youngsters they brought in were all terrific, especially Daisy Ridley.  For me it was great to see the old timers — Leia and Han and Chewie.  And our new young villain.  I thought Ben/Kylo Ren was terrific.  Not only is he very pretty he’s the kind of tortured character I just love.

So now I’m in my second viewing and I actually ended up liking the film much better than the first time I saw the movie.  I went in knowing it was derivative, and I expected the great visuals of the crashed imperial ships and walkers, and the exciting action sequences so I could sort of ignore them.  This time I just focused on the dialog, the characters and the actors performances.

And as a film it worked much better for me.  Why — because this time I saw the theme and how that theme was subtly supported throughout the film in the exchanges between the characters.  Here’s a short hand I used at a panel discussion last month — plot is the shit that happens.  Theme is what is all means.  If you don’t know your theme before you start writing you are never going to produce a satisfying book or film.  

So, what was the theme of this movie?  It’s a story about lost and abandoned children.

Finn — torn from his home and his family as a child and molded into a killing machine.  Though unlike his fellow conscripts he resists and find his soul.  But in terms of how he was raised he’s not a moral man or a hero.  To his companion he’s a failure and a traitor.

Rey left by her family, guardians?  Some unknown somebodies on a desolate world and told to wait.  She’s been waiting, lost and alone and wondering why they abandoned her?  What was wrong with her?

Ben/Kylo Ren.  Growing up in the shadow of parents who are legends. Tormented with powers he can’t control.  A father who is at heart an irresponsible child and walked away.  A mother who was too busy for him.  There is a telling line of dialog from Leia when she says “I should never have sent him away.”  That has to make a kid wonder — “what’s wrong with me?”  He’s given into the care of an emotionally distant uncle who tries to mold him in the Jedi ways which aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy.  And when Luke screws up and Ben turns to the dark side Luke walks away — another abandonment.

Just as Thor is the story of a distant and abusive father who fosters a toxic relationship between two siblings this is a film about bad parenting and as such I thought it worked.  It certainly worked much better for me upon this second viewing.

An aside.  I’m guessing that Luke is Rey’s father which absolutely makes him the leading candidate for the shittiest parent in the galaxy award.

And yeah, Kylo Ren and Rey were my favorite characters though I really loved Finn and Poe too.

Tesla — The First Five Days

I thought I would give a report on my impressions about the Tesla.  First, I’m a car person.  I’ve loved them since I was a kid.  The faster the better.  I want them sleek and fierce.  I want them to look like they’re going 100 miles an hour when they’re parked.  My first car was a Dodge Charger with a 400 horsepower engine.

 

(Yeah, my dad was car crazy too, but wouldn’t admit it so he lived vicariously through his 16 year old daughter.)  Next up was a Fiat X1/9.  I loved that car.

Then I had a Toyota Supra.  At one point I got coerced into a Mercedes sedan because no one in our circle of friends had a four door car that could carry more then 2 people.  I got stuck with the mommy car.  That lasted only a few years and then I went to the Mercedes SLK 300.  I loved that car and drove it until the repairs were starting to cost more than the car was worth.  Then the BMW Z4.  Really fun car, but the six cylinder engine meant I was putting premium gas in the thing every 3 to 4 days.  I was also getting a cramp in my conscience.  My friend George R.R. had gotten a Tesla and I liked what I was feeling and seeing when I rode in it so I started the Tesla fund.

A conversation over dinner with a tech savvy friend made me realize that a Tesla was a lot like a computer.  They are advancing at light speed and my friend pointed out that maybe leasing rather then buying was the smarter way to go.  Less money up front and being able to replace in three years.  The next morning I went out a took a test drive.  And I was lost.  It was the smoothest car I’d ever driven, but with a sport setting if I wanted to really feel the road, and enough zip to literally get me out of trouble in seconds.  The acceleration on this car is mind boggling.  I ordered one that day.

My bronze beauty arrived on the 23rd of December.  When you pick it up they encourage you to name the car (My kind of people all my cars have had names).  The name was obvious — Loki.  It’s even the color of Loki’s helmet in the movies, and I plan to get up to mischief while driving it.

So what have I learned.  I tend to use the fish eye camera as much as I use the mirrors.  Really helpful for changing lanes since it gives you a view to the side as well as directly behind.  They give you Slacker for four years for free, and I’m able to create “radio channels” of various artists.  So far I’ve got Mozart, Adele, Kelly Clarkson.  Apparently there is no limit to the ones you can create.  The speakers are first rate.  Phone calls are much clearer and of course hands free.  I just tell the car who to call.

I love how when I walk up to the car the door handles extend.  A sort of welcoming handshake.  The car seems to be excited and happy that you are going to take it out to play.  There is no place for a key.  You just keep it with you.  When you walk away the car locks itself.  Between the front trunk, the back trunk and the fact the backseats go flat you have as much storage as most SUVs.

The control panel is a wonder.  Easy to use and you really feel like you’re in a space ship.  Seat settings, climate control, garage door, music, phone, everything is just a touch.  You can even open the sunroof by just sweeping down on the panel.  The seats in the car are incredibly comfortable.  The navigation responds to voice commands and will guide you to supercharging stations and other places to charge your car at hotels and shopping malls, etc.  Since it’s linked to Google it will find stores by name.

Elon Musk is also a man with a vision and elegance and you will not spoil that vision and his elegant interior design with your crap.  In other words there are no door pockets or a center console where you can stash stuff.  No little dust catching pockets that can get cluttered up with junk.  Because there is no drive trail there is an area between the seats for a purse or briefcase, but you will keep your crap in the glove box where it will not spoil the symmetry and clean lines of the interior.  Elon is also clearly very concerned about American’s dietary practices.  There are two cup holders, but they are small.  You won’t be ordering a Big Gulp if you’re driving a Tesla because there is no place to set that giant cup.

I still find myself checking out the prices of premium gas at stations that I drive past and then remember — “Oh wait, I don’t have to do that any longer.”  As for charging.  It’s simple.  Press a button the charger door opens.  Plug it in, go inside and let it do it’s thing.

Bottom line — I love this car.

Into The Dark Places

There are going to be spoilers in this post so if you haven’t watched the winter finales of either Gotham or Agents of SHIELD stop reading.

**********************SPOILERS************************SPOILERS**************************SPOILERS******************

There has been a lot of good boys going bad on television during these winter finales.  I had pretty much given up on GOTHAM after the bone stupid legal errors that were being made — “No Bruce, you whiny little shit, you can’t fire me.  I’m your guardian.  And “No Bruce, you can’t sell the company because you’re like 14 years old and I’m your guardian!”  Grrrrr.  Anyway, George R.R. convinced me to give it another try and I do love Ben McKenzie who plays Gordon so I started watching again.  Only to watch Gordon throw away his faith in our justice system, his belief in the rule of law and gun down a man begging for mercy.  Made me a little queasy. Especially since I have just come off watching two films that point out the dangers when we lose faith in our institutions.  Both Bridge of Spies and Trumbo explore the carnage that results when we ignore the law.  They are both a testament to the rule of law.  I’ll write more about them later.  

Now we come to SHIELD.  I have loved Coulson from the first moment he walked on stage in Thor.  He was the human heart of the first Avengers movie.  I like the character and the actor.  But I was fascinated by Grant Ward.  Brett Dalton’s performance as the chameleon-like killer was masterful.  He could be charming, dangerous and brooding, or give you the look of a heartbroken eight year old that makes you want to give him a cookie and a hug.  There has been a concerted effort by the entire SHIELD team to take down — with prejudice — Ward.  Hunter was going to kill him until Bobbi pulled him back from that dark precipice.  Jenna tried and failed.  Fitz hated the man who had seemed like a such a friend but never resorted to murder.  May would have killed Ward the way you put down a rabid animal, but instead the kill went to Coulson.

And I felt like it completely undercut the basic decency of the man.  I don’t mind that, but they better deal with the fallout from a good man basically losing his moral compass.  Yes, Coulson has killed people before, but they were agents trying to kill him, or an Asgardian god who was about to escape and rain down terror on the Earth.  The killing of Ward was particularly brutal and personal and literally hands on.  It was an act of vengeance which made Coulson no better then Ward.  Ward had killed Coulson’s lady, Roslyn, as payback for the death of Ward’s “love”.  I put that in quotes because the relationship between Ward and Agent 33 was a sick folie à deux and of course it was Ward himself who killed his reputed love.

I worked on a serial killer show called Profiler and I know a lot about murderers the methods they employ.  The use of your hands to kill someone says a lot psychologically about a person.  The way Coulson killed Ward was particularly horrific — using his artificial hand to crush Ward’s ribcage and heart.  It was an incredibly powerful moment, a fascinating choice and they better pay it off.  Fitz who has now become the “decent man” seemed horrified at Coulson’s actions which is as it should be.

With Gordon we have him using a gun.  I again worry that the writers/creators of Gotham are losing sight of what made us care about the man who will become Commissioner Gordon.  I don’t have confidence that they know that they’re playing with the heart of darkness and how to deal with that.

With the team on AoS I have confidence that they will explore the darkness that Phil Coulson has entered.

Trust the Outline

Yesterday I completely rewrote a chapter because I had decided that a major event that had been the climax of the second novel in the space opera series was in the wrong place.  What this involved was me walking away from the carefully and painfully plotted outline sitting on 3×5 cards on the cork board.  But I did it anyway and spent a day of work redrafting an entire chapter.

Then I came wide awake at 5:00 in the morning because I realized that I had just blown the end of this book.  It was going to end with a whimper rather than a bang.  Yes, the outcome for my hero is dreadful and horrible for him, but it’s not creepy and it doesn’t serve as a powerful spring board into book three.  My original ending — the one on the board accomplished all of that.

Also by deviating from the plot as outlined I ended up with people not reacting to a shocking event which makes them look dumb or they have to start dealing with this event and it will drag the book out longer then it needs to be and I’ll have lost focus on the theme of this particular book.  As you know theme is important to me.  If you don’t know it and pay it off you won’t end up with a satisfying story.

So today I get to rewrite this chapter yet again and to back to the outline.

Collecting

Tuesday night I was at dinner with Connie Willis, Daniel Abraham and a number of folks from the science fiction community in New Mexico.  Connie had been given a sack of wrapping paper because she collects wrapping paper.  She gave us the fascinating background on why it existed.  Prior to 1920 packages were just wrapped in brown paper or tissue with a ribbon.  It was the crash and resultant depression that led to the creation of wrapping paper.  People didn’t have money for expensive gifts so they wrapped the inexpensive gift in pretty paper to make up for it.  Connie said she could identify the decade by just glancing at the paper.  During the 1960’s it was all psychedelics, then mylar came in and foil, etc. etc.

I collect antique sterling silver flatware.  My pattern is Violet by Wallace.  It’s a lovely art Nouveau pattern, and while I collect because it’s beautiful I collect it because of what it says about the era in which it was made — roughly 1880 to 1910.  It was a culture where you had “staff” to keep it all polished.  Where you had a luncheon place setting and a dinner setting.  Serving pieces for every conceivable kind of food.  I have a lettuce fork, a pickle fork, chocolate spoon, strawberry fork, fish fork, jelly spoon, baked potato server, fish server, etc. etc.  I also have this lovely filagreed piece which was a bonbon server.  It is meant to keep the powdered sugar off your fingers or clothing.

I decided I wanted to use it for Thanksgiving so I made dates stuffed with cream cheese and pecans and dusted with powdered sugar and I will serve them with the bonbon server.

 

If the Shoe Fits…..

I try very hard to obey the Godwin rule.  You don’t bring up Nazis unless you are talking about actual Nazis, but the current Republican field and in particular Donald Trump is making that incredibly difficult.

His race baiting has been with us from the beginning, but when he remained silent in the face of suggestions that all Muslims in the United State should register and carry ID identifying them as Muslim, and continued to stay silent when it was pointed out that this was perilously close to what was done in Germany in the 1930’s.  Then he said in Alabama “I want surveillance on these people.”  Threatening and imprecise.  Does he mean all Muslim Americans are going to be surveilled?

At this same event in Alabama a Black Lives Matter activist was attacked, kicked, choked, called the N word and thrown out.  I understand that protestors are going to be escorted out of events, but demonstrating and protesting is a fine old American tradition.  This kind of thugish behavior was chillingly reminiscent of the gangs who supported Adolf Hitler and roamed the streets of Germany while dressed in brown shirts.

So Trump is making it very hard to avoid stumbling into Godwin territory.

Then last night Trump put up a Tweet with completely bogus crime statistics that is racist in the extreme.  Charles Johnson, a recovering conservative who pens the Little Green Footballs blog did some sleuthing and found the source of the erroneous statistics.  It’s a Neo-Nazi site.  You can read about it here.  Tweet Source.

To date Mr. Trump has not yet removed this Tweet straight from the swamp and bile of white supremacy.  Will he?  Probably not.  The man seems incapable of admitting to any mistake or error.

Mockingjay Part 1

I have really enjoyed the first two Hunger Games films.  Jennifer Lawrence proves forever lays to rest the argument that women can’t be action heroes.  Her portrayal of Katniss Everdeen is fierce and powerful.  I wanted to be ready for the final installment of the franchise so I  streamed Mockingjay Part 1 to the XBox and gave it a watch.

They should have made one really long movie rather then break it up.  I understand why they did — the financial incentives to milk this for all it was worth were always going to trump story, but there wasn’t enough material to carry a movie.  Katniss broods and proves she can’t act.  (Actually a tough thing for a good actress to do).  They blow up shit.  Or rather other people blow up shit.  It’s the capital that destroys the hospital, faceless hoards who blow up the dam and hydroelectric plant, the capital that bombs district 13.

There is an exciting rescue mission to rescue Katniss’s love, Peeta.  Except it’s not very exciting when you’re watching it on a heads up camera display.  I haven’t read past the first book, but this struck me as a bad decision based on being true to the underlying material.  Maybe in the book Katniss didn’t go to the capital to free her sweetie, but in the movie she sure as hell should have gone along.  If I’d been adapting this that’s what I would have done.  Because Katniss watching the action on a TV screen is boring and it effectively neuters her.  Yeah, yeah, I understand how they wouldn’t want to risk their symbol but she seems passive as a result.

Basically Katniss, the protagonist of this film never actually protags.  She’s taken places where she can react to things.  React to the hospital getting bombed, react to the bombing of District 13, react to Peeta being rescued, react to Peeta trying to kill her.

Her impassioned speech after the hospital is bombed is her best moment, but truly the most effective thing a named character does in this movie is when Peeta breaks training and risks more torture to warn district 13 that they are about to be attacked.  Actually when you think about it Peeta is the hero of this particular installment.

Which is a shame because while I really like that character I want to see Katniss kicking ass, shooting arrows and taking names.

Disqualifying Behavior

I am linking to this article and I urge you to watch the video.  Kill The Gays Rally.  Not because of this ranting nutball religious head case and the 17oo deluded and hateful followers who attended, but because three republican presidential candidates showed up at this event.  I know people are going to say — “Oh Melinda, why are you getting upset over these bigoted fools?  They have no power, no way to actually enforce their murderous agenda.  Let me reiterate —

Because three candidates for the republican nomination to be president of the United States attended.

Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee and Bobby Jindal.  Those are the names to remember.  What does it say about the current state of the republican party that candidates for the highest office in the land feel comfortable showing up, sharing the stage and being interviewed by this man?  Bluntly I think that their attendance at this event should instantly disqualify them from any consideration for president.  Nixon was notoriously homophobic but I expect even old Tricky Dick would have had enough brains not to show up at something like this.  While Huckabee and Jindal have no chance of actually securing the nomination Ted Cruz has an actual lane to run and win.  Sit with that for a minute.

What this tells me is that there is a percentage of the American public who are perfectly happy to let their racist, sexist, homophobic freak flags fly.  That good manners and civil discourse have long ago left the building, and that these three men are either —

  1.  Viciously homophobic themselves.
  2. Want to turn American into a Christian theocracy.
  3. Cynically playing the rubes to win the nomination

Personally I’m hoping for door number 3 — it’s the least terrifying option.

Spectre

Otherwise known as the-Bond-franchise-takes-a-trip-down-memory-lane-and-we-remember-that-road-was-pretty-damn-silly.  This film was a real disappointment for me.  I’d been looking forward to it for months and last night I headed over for the 9:30 showing at the Cinepolis.  Thank god I was at the sybaritic theater with the big leather reclining seats with footrests and waiters ready to bring you food and alcohol.  I should have gone with the alcohol.  I almost ordered a margarita about halfway through the film.  I wish I had.

 

**************SPOILERS*****************SPOILERS*************SPOILERS****************SPOILERS**************

 

 

Even in the cold light of morning I’m still trying to figure out just what the hell this movie was about.  I know the plot — big organization has its tentacles in everything and is seeking world domination, but for some reason the villain is obsessed with James and has to screw with his life by killing every woman he’s loved and sending psychopaths after Bond because…..daddy?

This had the effect of undercutting all of Bond’s victories in the previous films because if it turns out the villains weren’t actually the real villain then Bond and M and everyone at MI-6 look like morons.  There’s also the problem that if you were going to build on James being an orphan then they should have given us some hint of Oberhauser in Skyfall.  Instead the foster father just comes out of nowhere.  If these men had spent some years together in childhood then give me some sense of those years.  If I’d been writing this I would have put Oberhauser on stage early.  Have him come to James for help, make them companions, play the relationship and then reveal the jealousy and the betrayal.

There was more lazy plotting — “I went to Mexico City because M sent me a message from the grave.”  Ugh.  How about having the new M very concerned about this move to rely on technology rather than people and he sends Bond into the field?  Or as I suggested earlier make Oberhauser the catalyst.  Also, please don’t make the new spy/drone master part of Spectre.  It made everything just feel too convenient.  Also, they already played this beat in Skyfall with the clueless bureaucrats messing with the spies.  I guess they thought having C be a traitor took the curse off.  It didn’t.  I liked having M be more involved in the action and Q was just great.  Some of the action sequences were very exciting, but…….

When we finally meet Oberhauser/Blofeld complete with a white Persian cat I really started to have a huge amount of sympathy for Daniel Craig.  I wanted out of the movie theater so I can see why he wants out of the franchise.  Craig did seem to be sleepwalking through this movie.  The entire scene at the North African secret lair with the torture chair device and the villainous monologue had me checking my watch.  For me the gritty, grounded feel of the first films was what brought me back to being a huge Bond fan.  (Didn’t hurt that Craig is gorgeous and a terrific actor), but this film seemed to go back to tired tropes.  I think if you’re going to go flamboyant then it has to be embraced throughout the movie.  This film felt schizophrenic as it bounced between camp and realism.

The women.  Oy.  There are precisely 3 in the film.  The Italian widow who has maybe five lines.  Moneypenny who gets to answer the phone.  And Swan who gets to take Bond to a hotel room to discover an evidence stash and then, inexplicably, go with him to the Secret Lair even though she says she wants no part of her father’s world.  Guess the sex was just that good.  Here’s a personal note — Craig is looking his age which is fine for the idea of the weary warrior, but Léa Seydoux looked way too young for him.  It kept pulling me out of the film.

I know the moment at the end where Bond doesn’t kill Oberhauser,and throws away the gun is supposed to be a big emotional moment but it felt contrived and almost an afterthought.  If the theme was going to be “Bond decides to no longer be a killer” then that tension needed to be laid in throughout the entire film.

For me Skyfall worked so well because it had a coherent theme.  It was about making cold, calculated decisions and the consequences of those choices.  The irony (in the best way, the use of irony to highlight a story) is that the problem is solved not by M’s emotionless assessments, but by Bond making a purely emotional decision to protect this woman who has dominated his life.

I have no idea what the theme of this movie was supposed to be.  I won’t be adding this Bond film to my collection.

 

Crimson Peak

Oh, dear.  Where to start.  First the good.  Tom Hiddleston is so handsome and so charming and such a good actor.  He can do more with a look then many actors can manage with a half page soliloquy.  He also dances beautifully.  yes, Tom I’ll waltz with you anytime and he’s in this film a lot.

Then there’s the rest —

 

********SPOILERS*************SPOILERS************SPOILERS************SPOILERS**********SPOILERS

 

You have been warned.  I said to a friend this morning this movie felt like a Daphne du Maurier novel from the 1930’s.  Nothing wrong with that.  I read and enjoyed her novels back in the day, but it’s a kind of story telling that seems very naive to us today.  It’s was directed by Del Toro so it was visually gorgeous, but the story felt trite and rather empty.

I had been worried about seeing the film because I’m a big wuss and I don’t handle horror well.  There is nothing horrific here.  Del Toro tries for tension with sudden sounds, but it didn’t even get a jump out of me much less ramp up the tension.  Jessica Chastain is appropriately creepy as the overly clingy sister to the degenerate English noble played to perfection by Hiddleston.  Mia Wasikowska is appropriately fragile and innocent as the young bride brought to the brooding mansion in England, but it all felt so familiar.

The one nice change was that you ultimately discover that the ghosts — as horrific as they might look — are actually trying to help young Edith.  I did wonder why after you’re dead you don’t just come back to haunt in a form that makes you happy.  Why do you have to be a blood drenched skeleton?  Is there some rule at ghost central that you have to be a horror?

Ultimately you discover that the brother and sister were horribly abused by their parents (which you had figured out almost right away especially when you saw the hideous portrait of mommy dearest).  The older sister is the leader in this Folie à deux to try and make Hiddleston less horrific.  Probably a good choice since the actor is so appealing, but you can’t get around the fact that he married three women for money and then let his sister poison them.

Of course the big shocking revelation is that the brother and sister have been having sexy time with each other.  Another thing which was telegraphed from the first moment at the ball.  And really folks, after Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones can sibling incest really be shocking?

There is, of course, the stalwart young American lover who lost Edith to the degenerate baronet played by Charlie Hunnam doing a truly terrible American accent.  The character is also too dumb to live.  He literally walks through the snow to rescue his lady after discovering the baronets previous marriages, and the horrific death of the mother and he doesn’t bring a gun.  He fails utterly to rescue Edith and instead gets stabbed but not killed.

Edith survives a fall from a balcony that seems to leave her with nothing more then a sprained ankle which shows up intermittently as Edith engages in a knife/shovel fight with crazy sister.  It was a pleasant change that the burly hero doesn’t rescue his lady love.  Instead she rescues him, but it wasn’t enough to save this movie.

At one point I leaned over to my friend Stephen Boucher and said “If Hiddleston weren’t so pretty I’d leave because this is boring.”  So no, if you are a wimp about horror films don’t worry about this one.  It’s not scary.  It you happen to have a crush on any of the actors then go and enjoy.

Supergirl

I had recorded the premier episode of this show and I had high hopes.  It’s produced by Berlanti who is doing ARROW and THE FLASH, but this one didn’t work so well for me.  The young actress playing Kara is appealing though for those of us devoted Arrow watchers she seemed like a version of Felicity.  Perky, talkative, a bit insecure. I liked the changes to Jimmy… James Olsen.  I was glad they’re not spending a lot of energy on trying to keep her identity secret.  There’s a real Devil Wear’s Prada feel to Kara’s relationship with her boss played by Calista Flockhart, but in someways that nod to an existing movie summed up my overall problems with the show.  It felt like they were grabbing for familiar tropes like they were life vests.

I could see all the seams, all the tricks and tools of the writing game in the script, and they were all telegraphed.  Here is the foster sister with whom Kara was raised when she arrived on Earth.  Of course she’s jealous and we have to have that scene.  Here’s the scene of Kara’s self-doubt about her ability to be a hero even though she knows she was groomed to be a hero.  Here’s the crabby government agency dude who “doesn’t trust aliens”.  Here’s the scene where Kara and her sister have to work together to defeat the bad guy.

Bottom line this script felt like it had been written with a copies of Syd Field’s The Foundations of Screenwriting and Save the Cat at their elbow.

I’m going to give it a few more episodes to find its footing.  The other two shows are so good that I can’t believe this one will continue to fall short.

Appearances

  • Boskone, February 19th - 21st. Boston MA.
  • MidAmericacon August 17th - 21st, Kansas City MO
  • Bubonicon August 26th -28th, Albuquerque, NM

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