Wednesday April 3, 2013
This is out a little late, but it's got spoilers so I'm fine with that.
The Croods was not what I expected. The trailers promised a re-tread of the "Dad never lets me do anything" story, this time set in a fanciful pre-history full of monsters that never made it into the fossil record. The film itself delivered something different. See, from the trailers I expected the red-haired cavegirl to be our protagonist. But a protagonist, at least in terms of story structure, is a character who has a specific need or desire, a goal, and has an arc, a path of personal change, after which they reach that goal, or get to a point where they don't need it, or maybe they simply fail (but I don't like that last sort of story much. Tragedy? Yuck.)
Guess what? The red-headed cave girl, Eep, is not our protagonist. She gets what she needs -- adventure outside the cave -- rather early in the movie, and is positioned for an entire life of that, even if that life might be rather shorter than anybody would like.
Her father Grug, however, has a strong arc. He desires to feed and protect his family. It's something he has at the beginning of the film, and then his ability to deliver is taken from him. Every strategy he has developed no longer applies, and his brain simply isn't built for coming up with new strategies. He descends deeper and deeper into failure while everyone else seems to enjoy the adventure.
Here come the spoilers. Hey, it's been a week. That's not exactly statute-of-limitations time, I know, but you've been warned. You have the power to stop reading.
There is a pivotal scene, and I do mean pivotal, in which Grug can reach his goal. The one thing he's good at -- being physically strong -- will let him save the family, but only by throwing them across a chasm to safety while he remains behind. So he does. He's a good father, a good protector.
And then the movie follows HIM instead of the family.
Hey, as plot-twists go this is no Sixth Sense reveal, but it really was wrenching. One moment you're rooting for Eep and the others as Grug gets his comeuppance for being dumb and unwilling to change, and then you realize that Grug is the one we really care about.
As a father of four who fancies himself a protector and provider, as a man with a pair of teenage daughters who have their hearts set on seeing more than just the cave walls, as a husband to a care-giver who often drags me in directions I didn't know the family needed to go, I wholly and completely identify with Grug.
And for that reason, this film rates pretty highly for me. Also, it was very well done. I laughed and I cried. And I might have cheered just a little.
Monday April 1, 2013
On a day no doubt filled with posts, tweets, and status updates that you cannot trust, I have nothing but truth for you. Why? Because I'm going on vacation, and this blog post is going to be up for more than just the one day.
Schlock Mercenary: Random Access Memorabilia has been nominated for a Hugo Award in the Best Graphic Story category. The other nominees include Grandville Bête Noire, Locke & Key Volume 5: Clockworks, Saga, Volume One, and Saucer Country, Volume 1: Run.
I've been inundated by well-wishers, and a few folks have told me that this is my year.
The Hugo Awards are not about taking turns or waiting in line. There is no "lifetime achievement" category for folks who have appeared on the ballot for years but never won. It's a fresh field every year. New works, new faces, and a new crop of voters. If you think I'm a shoo-in you should go read the rest of the ballot, and then vote for what you think is best, rather than voting for who's been sitting there the longest.
Why would I say this? Don't I want to win?
Of course I do, but more than that I want you to understand what a massive honor it is for me to have been nominated. The only way for you to have a full appreciation of that is for you to look at the company I'm now keeping.
And speaking of company, Writing Excuses Season 7 has been nominated for a Hugo Award in the Best Related Work category. Other nominees there are The Cambridge Companion to Fantasy Literature, Chicks Dig Comics: A Celebration of Comic Books by the Women Who Love Them, Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who, and I Have an Idea for a Book … The Bibliography of Martin H. Greenberg.
This is the third year that Writing Excuses has appeared on the ballot, and the fifth year that Schlock Mercenary has shown up. This brings to eight the number of rocket pins I can stick to my body. It is an honor just to jangle them around in my hand.
April Fools Day notwithstanding, this is the truth. No lie, no kidding.
Also no lie...
Many of you who did not get in on the Kickstarter have expressed an interest in pre-ordering challenge coins.
Wish granted: head over to https://schlockcoins.afterthecrowd.com and follow the instructions. You have to use PayPal to check out (it's all we could get working on short notice) and the numbered exclusives are gone (they were exclusive to the backers) but there are lots of lovely shiny things there. Also, if you lost or timed out on your original pledge manager link, you can request a new one at the link above using your Kickstarter email address.
If you have further questions about the pledge manager, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. Sandra and I are on vacation with our kids as of right about now, and would probably be sending your request on to Gary anyway.
Sunday March 31, 2013
The first "G.I. Joe" movie was well-executed, dumb fun. The plot was a little cartoonish, but the action scenes were big, crunchy, and comprehensible.
The second and most recent installment, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, is inexpertly hacked, mean-spirited idiocy.
I wanted to enjoy it. I've liked Duane Johnson's film work, and Bruce Willis is always fun to watch, but this film was soulless. The fight scenes had lots of shaky-cam in them, and I never felt like cheering for the protagonists. The plot was a patchwork golem of martial arts revenge, political intrigue, and military fantasy, and throughout the film I felt like scenes had been shoehorned in because somebody thought the movie wasn't cool enough yet.
That strategy, taken to its absurd extreme, would have given us three hours of movie that still wasn't cool enough.
The first act was promising, and while it didn't feel like a G.I. Joe movie, it DID feel like a well-done, near-future military action flick. Those promises, however, were never delivered on.
Remember how I railed against Olympus Has Fallen for the idea that a system exists to "cancel" a nuclear attack, destroying all our ICBMs in flight? Not only does this movie employ a system very much like that one, EVERY nation with nuclear weapons has a similar system, and all of them are executed with a button-push from the same suitcase that launches the nukes to begin with.
And then, while I was still shaking my head in disbelief, our infiltrating heroes wait until after Cobra has used their orbital super-weapon to flatten London before jumping into action. I still can't wrap my head around how that was presented. Nothing stood in their way but the director, who obviously had some cool special effects he wanted to show off.
G.I. Joe: Retaliation is officially, as of this writing, the least enjoyable movie I've seen this year. Its only redeeming factor is that I saw it with my friend Alan, and we were able to whine, kvetch, and commiserate afterward.
Saturday March 30, 2013
I just finished a full day of joyous special events -- two wedding receptions and a baptism -- and while I was out the Hugo ballots were announced. I'd love to write about that, but I also owe you movie reviews for The Croods and G.I. Joe: Retaliation (short version: see Croods, stay away from G.I. Joe.) Also-but, it's late, and Easter is tomorrow, and then my family and I are going on an actual vacation in which I will not be in my house, and might not write anything at all.
So that's where we are at the moment. I hope your Easter is joyous, and presents you with a welcome renewal of some sort. Maybe it'll be spiritual, maybe it'll be, I don't know, a magazine subscription. I need to stop writing now and do all of the other things.
Friday March 22, 2013
I took some time out to see Olympus Has Fallen, which is basically a Die Hard/Under Siege/Air Force One mashup, only without Bruce Willis, Steven Seagal, or Han Solo.
If you like big gunfights, big explosions, and the destruction of familiar landmarks on the big screen, this movie offers all that. Sadly, it also offers plot holes alongside the portrayal of horribly laid plans and institutional incompetence, except we're supposed to believe the holes aren't there and the plans and institutions are actually world-class.
Where to start? I'm just going to make a list, complete with spoilers:
SPOILERS, I say. You have been warned.
The goal? Set off all of America's nukes at once using the system designed do disarm and destroy them in flight. There's so much wrong with that system I don't even want to begin trying to pick it apart. It violates good engineering, actual physics, and military doctrine on more levels than I can count.
American air defense? A pair of jets that conveniently line themselves up to get rotary-cannoned by the AC-130 entering the no-fly zone.
White House ground defense? Secret Service agents who stand in the open and fire pistols through a smoke screen while advancing soldiers hose them down with automatic fire.
Visiting Dignitary Security? TOTALLY INVITED into the President's secret bunker. Someone says "this isn't standard" and then they're in.
When your one man on the ground tells you they can shoot down helicopters? Tell him to shut up and send in the helicopters.
After your helicopters are gone, don't bother using your satellite to see if that thing on the roof is still able to shoot. In fact, don't use the satellite at all for the rest of the movie.
It may sound heartless, Mister Speaker-of-the-House, but when you are the Acting President, and you learn that the President is being held hostage under the White House, and is going to be tortured for information that could kill millions of people, including (but not limited to) Americans, using a system in that same bunker, you have a two-step course of action, to be embarked upon immediately, with no hand-wringing. You may shed one tear:
Drop a bunker-buster on the White House.
Resign as Acting President of the United States (you did just kill the sitting President) and hand the reins off to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.
I couldn't get past how many logistical, technological, political, and common-sense flaws this film had. Did I have fun? Sort of. The film ALSO suffered from shaky-cam and lots of running around in the dark. Olympus Has Fallen comes in at #6 for me this year.