Movie Review: The Huntsman: Winter’s War

Overview:  There is a narration that tells us a bit about the first movie, and how Snow White killed Ravenna with the help of the Huntsman, then we go into backstory for the new film.  So, double backstory!

Ravenna and her sister, Freya, live in a castle together but Freya hasn’t come into her powers.  Ravenna thinks it’s because love is in the way, you can be powerful or you can be loved in this world.  She kills Freya’s child, blames it on someone else, and BAM, Freya is suddenly Elsa from Frozen.  She freezes everything and runs off to build her ice castle.  Once there, she starts stealing children to become her army (the awful narration says, “If she can’t have a child she’ll give birth to an army,” or something equally trite.)  They are called her Huntsman and taught ‘the greatest gift, to not love.’  There is one black child among the throngs of others because – diversity.  He is important, part of the triangle between loyalties.  Are you loyal to the queen or the lovers Eric (Hemsworth “The Huntsman” this movie is really about) and Sara (Merida from Brave, basically).

Stuff happens and the lovers are separated, then reunited years later while on a quest to find the magic mirror and destroy it so the Ice Queen doesn’t get it’s power.  They, of course, are mad at each other so there can be angry banter melting into sex.

There’s other stuff, too.  Ravenna comes back, Freya learns of her trickery, blah blah The Huntsman show’s how good he is, destroys the mirror, he gets everything a hero wins in these things.

The Good:  The reason why I watched this wasn’t the story.  I saw the first one and it was pretty damn bad, but it was pretty.  I like pretty, sometimes.  Some movies are made for plot or story and some for special effects, some to show things blowing up, etc.  This one had lush scenery and even more lush outfits for the two queens.  The special effects, in the beginning, were also beautiful.  A lot of ice stuff and the sound of crystallization that goes with it, a sound I find oddly soothing.  There was a lot of oozing cloth like stuff that was beautiful and first, then just became a vision of Nickelodeon Slime getting its own movie.  Seriously, they could have pulled back on that.

The music was also top notch.  I listened all the way through the credits.  In fact, half the time I was away from the screen (Getting bored) but loving the music as I cleaned or read or made my bed or many other things.

Oh, and Hemsworth (Chris) was his charismatic self here, winking and half grinning his way into all our hearts.

The Bad:  Pretty much everything else.  The story is . . .all over.  It starts by rehashing the first movie, then goes into the two queen’s fighting and the ice queen building her army, then to the Huntsman hunting the mirror, then the love story.  It reminded me of when I first taught my fiction students modular stories.  They loved it, and tried it, but there was no specific weight given to a story line to let us follow through – not in the early drafts.  This was a story in its early drafts.

The dialects- like, really?  I had no idea what was going with those.  If you’re going to have an international cast and a fairy tale setting, at this point just let them all speak naturally and blame it on ferries.  There wasn’t a rhyme or reason.

The oozing became so overdone.  I get it, women ooze.  How many times does that fetish/horror need to be played out on screen?  Poor Charlize Theron/Ravenna, her main power was to have her dress ooze some oily stuff that then became phallic.

The other bad thing is in the next section – everything female.

The Female:  There are a few women in here, who either get killed or paired off because in THIS world you either love a man or become a power crazed b– and die.  Simple mechanics.

And the film is a tease.  I remember the ads and stuff saying it’s about the sisters and it starts with them, but they’re just a frame for Hemsworth’s Huntsman and they’re pretty much not important except to set the quest in motion.  Tease tease tease.  Then they try to bring it back at the end with Freya finding out what her sister did but too late, man.  Way too late.  It’s not a story about sister’s, it’s a love story with Hemsworth at the Helm.

Freya:  She is the sister of Ravenna and longs for love.  She has love but then her baby is killed so she does what all women do when their children die- kidnaps everyone else’s and kills them if they so dare as love.  She’s pensive at parts, when she sees dwarves and realizes they are like children.  Poor Emily Blunt is trying to make this character more than an Elsa prototype, or Elsa fan fiction with no sex (if there’s such a thing).  Of course, since she still loves and yearns for a child she can help and redeem herself.  Go you, woman.

Ravenna:  She has some line about wanting to find love too, have a child, but- eh.  She’s in it to be the bad guy who gets the ball rolling but that’s about it.

Sara:  “Look women, we gave you a tough chick!  She goes toe to toe in combat with the others” – uh-huh, right.  Her role is to fall for Hemsworth, pretend to not love him until he grabs her and kisses her because women have wills only until they’re kissed then they’re owned, if not before.  So, there’s Sara.

The Dwarf Women:  There are two, they also pair up.  One also plays the ‘I don’t like you game’ with the guy, then goes for him.  The other’s are the simpleton’s, so they don’t have to pretend to hate each other and can just tell each other they like them and kiss and have babies.

The other thing here, every woman except for the dwarves has their waists cinched to within an inch of their lives.  Even the ‘strong warrior woman’ has to go around looking like she she has a waist that can snap in two with a strong breeze.  Breathing is for men, anyway.  No one wants to marry a woman with full lung capacity.

Overall – beautiful if not engaging and becoming tedious by the end and ultimately formulaic in story.  At least the chemistry between Chastain and Hemsworth was way better than when The Huntsman was supposed to fall for Snow White.

Movie Review: 10 Cloverfield Lane

Overview:  I did not see Cloverfield.  I cannot medically see Cloverfield as shaky cam makes me nauseous beyond belief.  I found out that movie theaters refund your money thanks to Blair Witch Project and things have been limited since then, with even Where the Wild Things Are making me run into the hallway to hyperventilate in an effort to not vomit.

So I was happy that this movie was not the ‘found footage to create immediacy and detract from production values’ style like so many recent ones.  I was also happy that John Goodman was in it.  I love him.  He’s amazing in so much that he does.  He’s awesome and an actor who acts, who very quickly is no longer John Goodman but the character he’s portraying.

And thanks to Brain Dead (an awesome show everyone should be watching) I love Mary Elizabeth Winstead.  Two actors I like in a movie? Score.

The basic premise is that a woman, Michelle (played by Winstead) is in a car crash.  She wakes up chained to a wall in the basement of a man named Howard (John Goodman).  She tries to escape and he tells her the world has basically ended.  The air is contaminated and the end is nigh, she is in his bunker.  It turns out he has opened his doors to another survivor, a man named Emmett.  Is he telling the truth or is there something more sinister at play?

The Good:  The tension.  How it plays off the fear of a man kidnapping a woman because- how many movies are like that?  How many news stories?  It’s got shades of the Lovely Bones with the woman trapped in the basement, chained.  You never know if Howard is fully good or bad.

The pacing is actually good, as well.  The tension gets amped up as we go along.  As do the questions.  There are beats to keep the story from being stagnant.  You meet the other survivor.  Michelle attempts to escape and sees part of Howard’s story is true- an infected woman slams up against the window.  She begins to relax, we relax for a bit, then Michelle finds an SOS message scratched in blood into the surface facing window.  And it keeps ramping out.

And it doesn’t end there.  The escape montage, like so many movies, the finding out.  The final struggle.  The escape to learn – some truths can’t be escape.  This has you question a heck of a lot of what happened in that bunker.

The Bad:  There are questions that we’ll never get an answer to.  To some degree, I like that.  To others – I can’t help but wonder what happened to certain characters.  We don’t really learn much about the characters to see character growth.  Howard, we learn he gets creepier but as a character he is the same from beginning to end.  The other guy in the bunker is. . .the other guy in the bunker  I don’t quite remember his name.  He’s there as final motivation, to show us Howard’s temperament in black and white.  And at the end Michelle has to make a decision.  The clenched jaw tells us it’s a turning point for her, that she’s developed as a person, changed.  But it came across a bit over the top for me.

The Female:  This won’t pass the Bechdel test (two women, talking to each other, not about a man) because besides the woman who is infected and tries to get inside the bunker, Michelle is it.  She is the main character.  I do like that the tension is based on the fact that men. hurt. women.   A woman picked up by a man, in Disney it’s for saving, in the real world it’s for hurting and that is given room to breathe here.  Michelle is allowed to be her own woman in the film, make decisions, and figure the rules out.

Granted, part of the premise IS around the woman in peril and the ending can make some think differently of Howard and the motives.  I was thinking of Misery for a bit, because in that a man is kidnapped by a woman, and that’s part of the shock, that a man could do that to a woman.  It’s not really shocking in cinema for the opposite to happen.

Overall though, I enjoyed watching it and it kept my attention.  AND, I didn’t get motion sickness.

 

Marta Martinez Saves the World

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A while ago, Jacob Haddon of Apokrupha and I were chatting on Facebook, as we do, about the rhetoric around women in sci-fi and fantasy.  How few there are in the field, that there is a backlash when women speak out, and the Hugos.  The talk turned somehow to Godzilla (as it can) and a rant, probably from me, how even big monster narratives were being taken away from those who created them, in this case Godzilla being created as a response to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and turned into another vehicle to show how amazing white males are.  I likened Jurassic Park to a continuation of the motif.

Then I asked, “If a woman’s place is in the kitchen, what happens when the kitchen attacks?” and the joke suddenly began to form into a reality.  What if women DID own the apocalypse?  What if we took those marginalized by society, the cat lady, the female engineer, the fat woman, and showed how they can kick ass just as much as everyone else?  What if we didn’t flip the script as much as just show how strong women can be and how they can fight off big monsters just like the boys can and not just be the prize at the end of the battle?

Thus was born Kaiju Revisited, a series of big monster novellas wherein women kick ass.  There is an awesome line-up of female authors on board, which thoroughly excites me.

As does my novella, my first non-short story, kicking off the series.  Wherein the kitchen DOES attack and the female engineering student, and her cat, go out to save the world.

Marta Martinez Saves The World was a lot of fun for me to write.  I just let myself loose, let my influences shine, and let Marta Martinez, a marginalized female engineering student, take center stage.  I hope the fun shines through and you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.  And I hope you read the rest of the issues, and clamor for more so we can keep it going.  Because the big monster sandbox is big enough for all of us, and baby it’s time to start playin’.

Movie Review: Star Trek Beyond

Synopsis:  After a failed diplomatic attempt by Capt. Kirk that looked straight out of MIB, the Enterprise takes on a mission past the nebula to rescue a ship.  Once they get through the nebula they are attacked viciously be a swarm of ships that move like bees and the Enterprise is destroyed, landing on a nearby planet, and the crew taken hostage.

Because this is an action movie, and a male one at that, Kirk finds a motorcycle on this abandoned planet.  Scottie finds a female engineer who has fixed up a former federation ship, the USS Franklin, and together, motorcycle and engineer girl (who can kick ass) save the crew, find the bigger plot that the big baddie named Krall wants to do, and save the federation.

There’s also a bit of stuff about both Kirk and Spock getting offered jobs off Enterprise.  Nods to the original spock, Leonard Nimoy dying and this causing a crisis for current world spock as the last Vulcan, and a dedication to Anton Yelchin.

The Good:  Action!  Humour!  It’s funny, with self-referential jokes that had some people laughing way harder than I was.  For instance, Kirk says that his life feels episodic, and Star Trek was episodic TV and these movies are episodic, get it?  That opening scene when Kirk tries to be an ambassador to little puppy aliens and fails is funny!  He’s attacked by puppy aliens, and one gets named and stays on the ship.  Did I mention the action?  Things get blown up, a lot.  There’s hand to hand combat.  Aliens.  The main bad guy, Krall, wants to destroy the federation and all the aliens speak English, which is awesome.  Because in the future all aliens speak English all the time.  It just makes things easier.

The cast, as always, is having fun.  Especially Karl Urban as Bones, Chris Pine as Kirk, Simon Pegg as Scottie, and Zachary Quinto as Spock.  Those far are digging it and it shows and it makes them fun to watch.

The Bad:  This film doesn’t think it has enough to stand on its own yet.  As a franchise reboot, the film is trying to tell us that it’s good, which makes it – eh.  They talk of Spock and show a picture of the original Star Trek crew.  There are a lot of callbacks to legitimize themselves, and not only wasn’t needed it didn’t let the cast get out of the shadow and fully into their own groove.

The camera work was one twirl away from shaky cam.  While I didn’t vomit and leave the theater as happens with full on shaky, I found myself getting dizzy.  Half the time I wondered if they thought this was the interactive write at Universal Studios that was being filmed instead of a movie.  Really, it turned a LOT and made it hard to see the action.

They had Idris Elba in the cast and squandered him.  I can go all objectify-y and say when you have someone that fine keep him out of make-up, or I can say that when you have an actor that awesome why just make him grunt his lines out and so one note?  There was no room for range in the character, and Elba got the range.  I’m sure for him it’s a great paycheck, for this gal it was a waste of an awesome actor.

The story was basic- it was a draft story, not a fully fledged one.  “Let’s – have them crash on a planet.  Yeah, yeah, do that.  Maybe have Spock and Uhura fight. yeah, yeah, that.  And then she’s captured, and he finds her, but we have her save him because – twist, she’s the girl, right?  yeah – that.  okay, then let’s make the bad guy- I Know!  a twist at the end about who he is.  Let’s Shyamalan this motherf*cker of a film.”

And that’s how it was made.   Ideas thrown and what stuck to the wall stuck.  There was the potential for great commentary on the creation of the federation and implications of its creation in the future.  For talk about the price of peace and what happens to those indoctrinated to war for peace when there are no more wars.  But that went to the wayside for explosions and. . .more explosions.

The Female:  This film really made me realize that modern media just cannot have women talk to one another.  Each group had a woman in it, among many many men, but no group had more than one who could speak.

Uhura:  Of the Enterprise group she’s the female.  A love interest to Spock.  A communications expert who wasn’t needed because everyone spoke English.  She’s captured, Spock is motivated to save her, she finds him first, they kiss at the end.

Jaylah:  Some white alien with white hair (long and flowy, because we have to find her attractive) and black markings on her face who speaks English but with an accent.  She’s of the crashed team along with Scotty and Kirk.  She is the Deux ex femina leading them to the deux ex machina- the USS Franklin they can fix to free everyone.  Her  parents are dead, she’s alone, she knows how to fight and is good with electronics.

Commodore Paris:  She’s of the Space Station team. She speaks mainly with Kirk and doesn’t exist elsewhere.

And never the woman shall meet.

Overall:  It was like a good episode of the old show.  A dizzying popcorn flick of motorcycles and man rescues and tons of jokes between friends that we all get because, having grown up on Star Trek, they’re our friends, too.

Movie Review: Ghostbusters (2016)

Synopsis:  Erin is up for tenure at Columbia, when her old bestie Abby republishes their book on ghosts, much to her embarrassment.  Abby is a particle physicist working in a fly by night college with Dr. Holtzmann.  They end up at a haunted house, see that ghosts are real, and band together.

Meanwhile, Patty, the street-wise subway toll booth operator runs into a ghost and decides to join them, as well.

Turns out a guy is tired of the world and wants to bring about an apocalypse and has used their book to devise a way to break the veil and bring ghosts to NYC.  So it’s a battle of the female physicists against the disenfranchised male to save NYC.

The Good:  It was fun!  Blast-em up kind of fun.  There was slime, and thing exploded, and stupid jokes, and I definitely laughed.  I also cried.

The crying caught me off guard.  I didn’t realize the impact of having women, and women who looked closer to me, doing save the world type stuff.  The women bodies were varied, like men can be in buddy films, and not all ripped.  The first time I started to tear up was when all four were in their suits and they had Ecto-1 and it just made me happy.  The second time was when Holtzmann took out two guns and did the superhero spin, roll, and shoot killing all the baddies around her.  Oh man was that good.

Then there was Chris Hemsworth as Kevin and he was hilarious.  So much stupid fun with his one liners around the joint.  More on him later.

There were great lines in here as well acknowledging that yes, these are women.  It wasn’t a movie where roles for men were played by women.  In one scene, the disenfranchised male asks if they understand what it’s like to be so smart and work so hard and not get any credit- the women in the audience chuckled.  Abby did the, ‘well, d’uh- yeah.’ because it’s an everyday for women.  You can be smarter, faster, and have more experience and it won’t matter.  The fact that women get hired on experience and men on potential is, well, a fact.  Particularly in the STEM fields.

The Bad:  I have heard people complain that Kevin was just TOO dumb.  I mean, he covered his eyes when things were too loud.  He didn’t understand telephones.  While the girls were saving the world he was at a deli ordering a sandwich.  Everyone comments on how pretty he is but he’s dumber than a post.  “The women in men’s films are never that stupid,” I’ve seen said.  Well, here’s the thing, I don’t think his character is to make fun of the dumb blonde trope, although I can see how people would see that.  I think it’s more to make fun of how blind men are to when women say they aren’t being given equal pay, when they complain about how everything costs more as a woman, from haircuts and clothes to the taxing of maxi pads as non-necessary items.  The blindness when women say they don’t feel comfortable walking home at night.  I think the ignorance of Kevin was a collective ignorance of the female experience in a male body, to the point that when a woman complains men cover their eyes to not hear.

Then I hear complaints about Leslie Jones- the one black character having to be the street smart one.  I do wish, since this was a revamp/retelling and not a sequel that they made her a scientist as well.  I am tired of the street smart *insert ethnicity here* trope, and Leslie is a lot of fun and could have done a scientist role just as easily.  Hell, she could have been a subway engineer and brought that knowledge to the team just as well.

Some of the homages were a bit much.  Billy Murray was in it, as was Ernie Hudson and Dan Ackroyd.  Ackroyd’s felt the most forced, with the line, “I ain’t afraid of no ghosts,” telegraphed like a preschooler telling you the same joke for the tenth time.

Making fun of academia and Columbia was the biggest irk.  It gets tiresome to see the big schools as snobby and old fashioned, even if there needs to be some change in the ivory towers (major change).  It’s a cheap laugh and trope.

The Female:  This might be the first movie I’ve reviewed that passes the Bechdel test (two women talk to each other, and not about a man).  They talk about their jobs, and childhood, and friendships, and ghosts.  Yes, they talk about Kevin as well, but it’s more the other things that make up the movie.  There are four women in charge of the film, then the Mayor’s secretary – who we see is really running the show (The Mayor is basically another ‘Kevin,’ just not as pretty).  The women have careers, degrees, and agency.  They know how to fight and explore and have a lot of fun.  They are all pretty amazing.

There was a lot of gruff about an all female Ghostbusters, some of which made it into the film in sly commentary.  Here’s the thing, Ghostbusters is a fairy tale- and those are re envisioned all the time.  From Fractured Fairytales to a slew of anthologies about rewriting fairy tales, it’s part of our nature to rewrite these essential elements of story and allow ourselves room within them.  To take an exclusionary tale, but one central to our past and identity, and include in it an updating to allow those of us usually on the outside a way to be represented and have agency.  That’s why we have feminist fairy tales, and stories of Snow White as the vampire, and the thousands of variations – so we can stop having to identify with white men and identify as who we are, whatever that may be.  And in this case the new telling of the tale allows women and women of color to be part of the tale.  We get to have a connection to popular culture where we are heroes.

Overall:  It was great fun.  There were laughs to be had.  This is not arthouse deep cinema, but it’s also not dark brooding explosions with growling voices.  There’s lightness in tone and story and a lot of slime.  Oh, and a queef joke.

 

Movie Review: Batman Vs. Superman, Dawn of Justice

Synopsis:  There’s Batman.  And there’s Superman.  And stuff happens, I think.  Explosions.  We see Batman’s parents die YET AGAIN but oh, this time the gun firing is what spills Ma Wayne’s pearls.  There’s the Joker pretending to be Lex Luthor or vice versa.  Flash might be in this.  Bruce Wayne dreams a lot, so this might be like Inception and not a real movie at all.

I think there was something in there about people being scared of Superman and an attempt at discussing Gods vs Demons and judging people by your standards, not theirs.  Then there are more explosions.  You learn both Ma Kent and Ma Wayne are named Martha.

Doomsday, kryptonite, a grave, the end.

The Good:  Uhm.  Let me think.  On the objectification front- Henry Cavill looks good.  I usually don’t think that of Affleck, but in the opening scenes with the graying temples, it worked.  Gal Gadot wore a couple beautiful gowns.

The Bad:  This is a longer list.  First off- it was dark.  Not in tone (although that was as well) but in color.  You needed the explosions to just SEE ANYTHING.

I have a vague idea of plot- Lex Luthor kidnaps Ma Kent, tells Superman to kill Batman or she dies.  Batman is branding people for some reason, thinks Supes is too powerful.  But they bond and make-up.  A lot of this is speculation though.  For the most part, I had NO idea what was going on.  It felt like a series of ‘batman vs. superman’ trailers tacked together to make 2 hours.  The way Lex Luthor speaks makes me think all his lines were cut from the Dark Knight script as ‘not quite Joker enough.’  When they’re not nonsensical they’re trite (like turning a painting of angels and demons upside down, because you now know demons come from the sky).

So – you can’t see anything, and have no idea what’s going on.  That’s the basic gist of the bad.  Oh, and speaking in growls is back for Batman, so there’s that.

The Female:

Lois Lane is pointless except as a weak spot for Superman, because isn’t that all we are?

Ma Kent is kidnapped to make Superman kill Batman.

Ma Wayne is killed to make Batman become Batman (can’t be an overpowered male if not spurred by the death of a weak female somewhere) and, later, to bond with Supes over their Martha’s.

Wonder Woman has, per the pop-ups on my video player, 16 lines of dialogue.  She fights at the end a bit.  You still need a man to win, though.

Oh, Holly Hunter is in it as some senator.  She gets lines.  She says no to Lex Luthor.  She dies.

If any were removed, you’d never notice.  I don’t think they talked to each other at all, either.  Except for Lois Lane and Ma Kent about Superman – thus not passing the Bechdel Test (two women, talk to each other, and not about a man).

Overall:

I love the idea of Batman and Superman, grew up on both and read the Doomsday comic.  But really, just watch some youtube trailers of this and you’re fine.

 

 

Con Review- Scares That Cares

Scares That Cares is a family friendly Horror convention that donates a share of proceeds to a person or family with health issues such as cancer.  It is held annually (This was the third year) in Williamsburgh, VA, in between Busch Gardens and Colonial Williamsburgh.

The Good:

Hugs.  Before I even signed in to the hotel a guy ran up to give me a hug.  Turns out he was author, Mike Lombardo.  Never met him before, didn’t matter.  Hugs were the norm here because apparently, if you’re there, you’re damn well gonna be made to feel welcome.  I got a lot of  hugs this weekend, and all were equally glorious.  From meek mild not really touching hugs to full on acupressure up the spine ones.  I also got to meet the hugmaster herself, Janet Rogers- Empress of HugTown.  The unofficial mayor of hugging at Conventions.  If you see pictures of her at conventions, it’s hugging someone.  And it was glorious – so go back for seconds, thirds, tenths or so as I did.  With her was her equally hugaliscious family- The Paynes- and her husband, Phillip Rogers.  All great huggers, artists, and people.

Kids.  I found myself saying at one point, “I like the kids here.  Not a one has been obnoxious” and I meant it.  I’m not the biggest kids in public person.  They’re unpredictable, they can cry and tantrum and other things because – they’re kids.  I never hate them for it, can just find myself rolling my eyes on occasion because it’s their nature.  The kids here were amazingly awesome.  Maybe it was because there was so much for them to do.  There was a trick-or-treat for them to go to all the celebrities and vendors and get candy.  There was a 5K run.  There was a zombie hunt where they got equipped with nerf guns to go hunt volunteers dressed up as zombies.  The kids weren’t a tag-a-long but incorporated into the program, and when you feel welcome and included at any age you feel better and act that way.

There were two girls who kept rounding the vendors tables on the last day.  There was one table where all the vendors were dumping candy.  Each time they passed they giggled and looked at us (as Jacob Haddon, head-master at Apokrupha, and I were next to it) and we told them to take it all.  They would take a handful and giggle and then go around again.  When even more places dumped their leftover candy there and it was about to crack from the weight, I wondered where the girls were.  I found them sitting outside giggling to each other.

“You girls should go back, there’s even more candy there now!” I said.   “And take bags.”

When I ran into them again they held up bags stuffed to splitting with the candy, thanked me, and laughed.  That was a sample of the way the kids behaved- respectful, sweet, funny, nice, etc.

Activities.  There were activities for everyone, of all ages.  Kids stuff during the day, adult stuff at night (I’m told, I went back to my room by 10 pm most nights to write before sleep.).  There were celebrity talks, author readings, costume contests, vendor rooms, celebrity rooms, etc.  There was even a screening room that was super cold where you went to take naps when needed.  I don’t know the movies screened there, it was a mix of public domain and indie, but I don’t think I saw anyone with their eyes open in that room.

Authors.  I went there because my novella, Marta Martinez Saves the World, debuted.  It’s not officially out yet, and I will have a longer post on it’s creation and the creation of the series it’s part of, Kaiju Revisited, when you can buy it elsewhere.  Authors lined the back of the vendors room, for the most part, with some in upstairs vending rooms.  I was told it was a great year for authors there.  My novella, with no cover yet, in the back of a room, and with me (as John Boden put it) believed to be a computer that passed the Turing test as I keep photos offline, sold out.  It sold out at the very literal last minute.  I was walking out the door when a vendor ran up and asked if I had one more copy left.  I ran out to the car (Jacob’s car), got it, and sold it to him.  Dudes, I autographed books.  My novella.  People who I didn’t know on facebook bought them.  Everyone chuckled when they heard what it was about – One person gave it the best tagline, “It’s the Brave Little Toaster meets Jurassic Park,” they said – and it fits perfect.  I also met many many authors that I’ve known on facebook and off.

And I met Joe Lansdale.  Who was friendly and awesome and if I didn’t feel like I was imposing could talk to for hours for his voice alone.  And the writing wisdom, that was important as well.  We spoke of Bubba Ho-Tep (a favorite of mine that made me realize I could let the weird fly in fiction when it serves the story to do so) and Godzilla’s Twelve Step Program.  We spoke a bit of racism and my job working in a clinic that provides healthcare to refugees and torture survivors.  We spoke of just how many books people hand him at conventions, on the streets, at his home, etc.  I got to see him do his reading with Weston Ochse and both were just amazing.

Artists and Other Vendors.  I spent most of my ‘con money-not food’ budget at Jellykoe:  Arts and Toys.  It’s a husband and wife team.  He makes the arts, she turns them into stuffies and other toys.  He has a line where he paints cartoon aliens on old photographs he picks up along his travels and I bought a few of those, wishing for more.

There were many other vendors selling so much stuff!  I picked up a Yeti purse at one place, drooled over Munsters purses at another.  There were horror stuffed teddy bears and other dolls, bathbombs, crocheted horror icons (I did buy some mini eyeballs there), hot sauce and pickles, and tons of other randomness and arty awesomeness.

The Bad:  Transportation, really, was the only complaint.  Williamsburgh is not near a traffic hub.  It’s a regional tourist spot for regional things.  Kids go to the ‘historic triangle’ on field trips to explore the past or you go to Busch Gardens.  It was near impossible to find a flight that was convenient for me, and even worse getting back.  My flight back ended up having mechanical problems, and there wasn’t another flight going my direction for a few days.  To the airline’s credit, they put me up in a hotel, gave me a 70$ voucher to take a taxi to the next closest airport, and got me on a flight out the next day. The only reason I ended up being awake over 24 hours was because my anxiety kicked in and had me in the restroom that night.  However, it wasn’t full on panic attack anxiety, just a few tears and watching late night Disney shows because I couldn’t sleep type of anxiety.  When I got home I passed out for 17 hours.  I’m getting ready to pass out again. Had I not planned ahead and taken two days off of work, though, I’d have had to call in for one of them.

Transportation there was also not made for those without cars.  I went to Colonial Williamsburgh, which was small and would have been expensive had I not gotten the educator discount, by bus.  To catch the bus I had to cross an 8 lane stretch of roadway- with no crossing signs.  Nor did the lights on half of it face my direction so I could tell who had turn signals or not.  I had to go back to my days when I was the Frogger Wizard and pray I still had it.  I did- barely- and survived.  I was harassed by an older woman on the bus who didn’t like me putting my hands on the back of the seat in front of me- even though she was no where near it, and no one was there, she kept telling me to take them off.

I could add heat was a bad thing too.  It was high humidity there the entire time, but save for my visit to the past, I was mostly inside and it was fine.

The Female:  There were a few female author readings, not near an even split, and I think if we got to racial lines the disparity would be even greater.  I’m told that the readings went to the people who bought table space, understandable, which shows that there were few females who bought table space.  When it came to celebrities, there was an even split until cancellations happened at a steady pace leading up to the con.  The two I wanted to meet and gush over awkwardly cancelled, and other celebs stepped in.  When it came to walking around the con the ratios seemed even in terms of gender.

Overall:  If I had an easier mode of getting there, I’d be a regular.  To those who can drive, even if it’s a half day drive or so and you don’t mind it, go.  There’s stuff for everyone, you’re (mostly) all friends, and it really does Care like the title of the convention says.  Everyone was super nice.  It was a great time while there, just the getting there that was the issue.

Movie Review – The Secret Life of Pets

Synopsis:  A cute little dog named Max loves and lives for his owner.  He has a network of friends he hangs out with once their owners are gone that includes dogs, cats, birds, and a hamster.  Then – disaster.  She brings home a big dog that takes over his bed and his home.

Max is mad.  He wants to get rid of the dog.  And in the process they both end up lost in New York City and it’s up to their friends to find them and bring them home.

So basically – Toy Story with pets.  Super cute pets.  Max has a female dog in love with him that teams up with a falcon hawk.  Max and ‘dumb oaf’ have adventures, fall into a group of ‘flushed’ and abandoned animals who hate humanity and then run afowl of them, have a nitrate induced trip about singing hot dogs, learn to love each other and make it home in time for dinner.

The Good:  The animation is slick.  It’s made by the company that created the Minions and Despicable Me, so that’s expected.  The voices didn’t distract me with the ‘oh, it’s THAT celebrity’ like some animation does when they go for A-list actors instead of voice artists (even though the film was still mostly populated by actors).  The story was, for the most part, light fluff with a lot of silly laughs.  They also did a good job with characterizing some of the animals, showing a true love for pets.  You could tell who in the theater was a dog or cat owner by when they laughed.

The most laughs were probably garnered by the interactions with Snowball, a homicidal bunny voiced by Kevin Hart.  Snowball leads a group of abandoned pets that includes snakes and alligators and rats on top of cats and dogs and a pig that was used as a tattoo tester/canvas.  All of their actions are wonderfully over the top hilarious and borderline inappropriate to the point that I was chuckling, ‘oh, god,’ quite a bit throughout.

The Bad:  There is one 10-15 minute scene somewhere in the middle that feels tacked on an like the writer was told the film was to short and ‘create backstory for that other dog.’  It’s also a scene of forced pathos.  In it, our hero Max talks to other dog about going back to his home, one he apparently ran away from before getting caught by Animal Control.  We are shown flashbacks of him and his owner, an elderly black man.  The only non-white person I remember in the film.  They go to the house and there is now a cat there who tells our heroes that the old man died and someone else owns the house now.  Other dog gets mad at Max for forcing him to go and runs off, angry, while animal control is called.

It’s bad for a couple reason.  First off, it’s just badly written or placed and feels overly manipulative.  Secondly, this shows the only non-white person in the film AND HE DIES.  Even in a kids animated film the black guy can’t survive.

The Female:  This is about animals, yes.  Neutered animals (it’s mentioned).  Yet there is still the normal gender politics at play.  It would not pass the Bechdel test (two female characters, talking, and about something other than the man).  Here are the female players:

The owner:  She’s a woman who rescues dogs from the pound, or enough to start the story.

Gidget:  She’s a fluffy white powder puff of a pomeranian type dog and is in love with Max.  The joke is that he doesn’t really even notice her and she’s obsessed.  She’s the one who leaves the charge to rescue him.  It isn’t until she Karate chops her way to save them that he sees her as more than the fluffy white thing that always says hello to him.

Chloe: A mackerel/gray tabby cat that’s friends with Max when it suits her, but also knows how to rally the troops to help save him when it’s needed.

Annndddd, that’s it.  IMDB lists one other female named Maria but I don’t remember her.  The female voices get a chance to talk a bit, have their own jokes, but not a life outside of Max.

Overall:  This was fun.  It’s always sad when even in kids films the same racial and gender roles play out, especially one about animals where you have a chance to go elsewhere.  But I still laughed and if you want to not think, it’s not a bad way to go.

Movie Review: The Lobster

Synopsis:  In a fabulist tale of a movie, if you are single you are sent to a hotel by the woods where you have 45 days to meet someone before being turned into an animal of your choosing.  Your days can be extended for each ‘loner’ you bring in – people who live in the woods attempting to escape the choice of relationship or animal.  However, there are rules to being a loner as well – you can’t kiss or sleep with anyone or there are ‘repercussions.’

Rachel Weisz narrates the beginning where we follow David, a recent single man, who goes to the hotel with his dog, Bob, which we learn is his brother who didn’t make it.  When he checks in he is asked his orientation and told he can only choose Hetero or Homosexual, as Bisexual caused too many issues :/  From there he has one hand chained to his back so he can see how useful two are.  We are taken through the absurd view of being paired – how a lot of it is done on similar ‘defining features’ – such as a man who has a limp (caused when he went to visit his mother, who turned into a wolf after his father ran off, and other wolves at the zoo attacked him) whose wife also had a limp. Her passing is why he is currently there.

Afraid of becoming an animal that others eat, the man with a limp pretends to have a nosebleed to match with a woman who gets nosebleeds.  Meanwhile, David pretends to be a sociopath to match with a female sociopath.  After she does something too horrendous for him to pretend anymore, David runs off into the woods to become a loner and there he meets his ‘match’ – a woman nearsighted like him played by Rachel Weisz.  But it’s not allowed out there and they have to develop their attachment in secret, because there are bad things afoot if they’re found.

The Good:  The absurdist nature of this had the theater chuckling throughout.  For example, there is always an unexpected animal in the background in the scenes in the forest.  In one, we learn a woman is turned into a pony and then later see the pony nosing around the background.  At another there is a flamingo or a camel that walks through the scene.

The parts at the hotel in the beginning, while we are learning the rules of the world are also great.  There are ‘plays’ the single people have to go to where they learn the benefits of being a partner.  In one, a man is eating alone chokes and dies.  Then they show how having a partner would lead to them living as they simulate the Heimlich.    If partners are having problems ‘they are given children, as that seems to help.’

This world building continues in the woods where you learn about ‘red lips’- if you are caught kissing you have a razor drawn across your lips and throughout you see people with bandages over their lips.  The narrator says there is also ‘red genitals’ if you are caught doing something else.  Then we are told that you dance alone, so they only allow you to listen to electronica and there is a scene where people are just dancing to their own music.

The actors take to the roles well.  Part of the allure of the film is the flat affect which everyone has.  While there is the sociopathic woman who has no feeling, few others do either, just not as blatantly and it’s shown in all interactions and the acting.  This is not a world where love goes into matching, you just do it if you have a similar ‘defect’ from others and so you don’t become an animal.  Everything is regimented and dictated.  If you aren’t partnered the law will find you – as is shown in a scene in a mall where if you are alone and don’t have a certificate showing you are coupled you get hauled away.  At times you can almost see the glee with which the actors are playing everything so straight.  And great actors, too.  John C. Reilly and Rachel Weisz and Colin Farrell are the most prominent names.  There was also an always heart-wrenching character portrayed by Ashley Jensen – I fell in love with her in Extras and she doesn’t disappoint here.

The Bad:  The tone shift is incredibly prominent and you felt it in the theater.  The hotel part is absurdist fun as we are learning the rules – and then (BEWARE OF THIS!)

Bob the dog is kicked to death AND YOU SEE THE AFTERMATH.  Once we see the bloody dog in the bathroom not moving and the blood on the sink and the woman’s leg, yeah, it’s not fun anymore.  Then suddenly we’re out in the forest and you see more of this darkness overtly, instead of just the hints in the absurd.  There’s the red kiss but also the awful thing the leader of the loners does to Rachel Weisz’s character when she finds out she is planning to run away.  This is probably the biggest flaw, how it changes so drastically and is like two different films tacked together.

Also, it feels less like a film and more like a fabulist story put on the screen.  It’s narrated, it’s purposely flat in terms of action, and fits so nicely into the current literary movement of asian fabulism that Clarkesworld, and other magazines, is promoting.  I would have loved to read this as a story and almost feel like I did more than like it was something I saw in the theater.

In the vein of a literary magical realism story, the ending is a non-ending and there was a collective ‘What?’ when the credits began to roll followed by ‘shit’ by more than one person in the audience.  It’s okay to end films and stories, people.  Give us satisfaction.  Although, at the same time I understand that no one in that world was allowed satisfaction and that was part of the themes.  There was the running joke of women getting guys erect and then leaving them like that, with masturbation outlawed.

The Female:  Here’s where it gets tricky.  While the hotel says both homo and heterosexuality is allowed we only see hetero.  And David is the main character, so it’s most about him.  There are other women, but by nature of the film’s set-up they are there to partner up with a man, except for the female leader of the loners in the woods.  There is one scene where two best friends sort of talk to one another, when one is reading a letter about how much she’ll miss her friend (who is to become a horse, having not met anyone). But I don’t really remember them much talking even in that scene.  The maid and the loner leader talk a bit, and not about men, and there are other conversations.

Now, the Bechdel test says that two women must talk and not about men, even if it’s a sentence.  If we go by that, then it passes.  Some add that the women must also have a name- if we go by that, it fails.  David and his dogbrother Bob have names.  The friends they meet that are male have names (Jon, the man who limps) but no woman is given a name in this film.   Is this because they are only there to partner with the men, who are the focal point, and thus just another thing do be acquired so should have no name?  Could be.  The loner leader definitely has agency in the film, even if she ends up in a grave at the end at the hands of David.  As does the maid, and the female friend who becomes a horse (because she had fabulous hair).

This is ultimately David’s tale in the world he’s stuck in, but there are more female characters than many films nowadays and even if not the focal point, they speak.

Overall – it’s a film that is being discussed for a reason.  There are good things in here and it does read like a story on screen, as in, it feels more ‘writerly’ than cinematic.  Plus, there are some laughs to be had and things to discuss afterward.

Movie Review: The Giver

Synopsis:  In the future, the world is black and white and shades of gray only.  Things like color and emotion were seen as threatening to order so were eliminated.  The government has sanitized everything and decides what profession people go into after they graduate schooling.  They receive daily ‘immunizations’ which dull their emotions and make them complacent.  They also hold no memories of the time before their genetically engineered existence.

Three friends, Jonas, Fiona, and Asher are worried about what the future holds for them, or at least mildly concerned as “worried” is not in their vocabulary.  Asher is to be a drone pilot; Fiona a nurturer in the infant ward where they weigh children to see if they will survive or need to be ‘released,’ and it turns out Jonas, surprise surprise, is the chosen one.  Because one person receives the memories of all the past.  He goes off to meet Jeff Bridges, ‘The Giver,’ and learn what humanity was really like and decides, despite the horrors of war and hatred, it should be like that again.

The Good: Jeff Bridges!  I mean, come on, he’s gold and that voice is perfect for so many movies.  He’s had me since Last Unicorn.  And Alex Skarsgaard is in this, as is Meryl Streep.  Those are names people, NAMES.  The use of black and white and color is great.  The story itself, while at this point a bit cliched in film now (to release is to kill and that Soylent Green moment, for example) still kept me engaged.  Cameron Monaghan is always wonderfully creepy even when trying not to be.  And, even though I knew this whole thing was engineered to make me cry from the very moment I learned Jonas would be learning emotions, I still cried.

The Bad:  Maybe not necessarily bad, it depends on your point of view, but remember that magical moment in Pleasantville when the mom feels emotion, that tear streaks down her cheek and washes the gray away to show color?  Well take that moment and turn it into an entire hour and a half movie and you have the Giver.  Without emotion there is no color and as you learn emotion the world gets a greater variation of color.  It’s a movie that wants more complexity but it really just felt like they blew up that part of Pleasantville.  And on some level that’s not bad.  On others it made it an incredibly predictable film and didn’t add much to the genre of ‘teen in utopia discovers it’s dystopia’ filmography.

The Female:  Female as possible romantic partner- check.  Female as mother who doesn’t do much – check.  Female as oppressive bitch who wants control- check.  Not much screen time was given to any woman in the film, the most being the romantic partner (Fiona) he wants to ‘save’ by sharing his gift of emotion.  While they try to pretend this isn’t a woman in the fridge ending or motivation for Jonas ‘going beyond the boundary of memory so everyone gets their memory back’ by having him love an infant about to be ‘released,’ – she is still in mortal danger and he ends up saving her in the knick of time so . . nice try movie, but I got your number.  She doesn’t rise above the crying and confusion of a woman loved thoroughly by a man who is the hero.  The mother, played by Katie Holmes, doesn’t do much but follow orders and then there’s Meryl Streep.  She is an ‘elder’ who wants to maintain control of the society so sends troops after Jonas.  The main troop being his best friend ‘Asher’ to test control.  All she is shown as wanting is control no matter what.

This film would definitely not pass the Bechdel test.

We need a test for non-white people as well, although part of that seems to be built in or half-assedly explained in exposition when Jonas sees ‘people of all skin color’ in the memories he receives.  Apparently part of an orderly society is getting rid of everyone who isn’t white and making sure women speak for like, less than 5% of the time.