hawkwing_lb: (Default)
Is an amusing spectacle of a film with an awful lot of ridiculously boring bits. Alas, the guy playing Leonidas has no acting chops at all, and set against the rounded vowels and British consonants of the gentleman playing Themistocles (who actually can act), his tendency to pronounce "earth" "oyth" and rush out his lines as if speed is all that matters... is hilariously jarring.

This is a film which is actually aware of Herodotos: it has no clue at all about how to choreograph a battle involving Greek hoplites (protip: short shorts go stabby, not slashy, and CLOSE UP YOUR LINES), but it does speechifying to a very Greek length. Xerxes is distracted from war by sexytimes with a (sadly unattended by her own entourage) youthful and pale Artemisia, and there is some subplot involving a young Spartan and his affianced bride who follows him from the Lakedaimonian plain to the Hot Gates - afoot, without change of clothes or supplies - and much manly beating of chests and disclaiming responsibility among the Persian generals. The division the film makes between "East" and "West," "tyranny" and "freedom," also echoes Herodotos a little (tho' for the author of the History, the division was less "East" and "West" and more "barbarian" and "Greek"), although its expression here to my mind has as much to do with its Cold War context as any attempt at faithful historicity.

But it bears comparison with the Frank Miller/Zach Snyder 300, because - poor dialogue, bad acting and all - it tries. And cruelly whimsical as it shows Xerxes to be, it demonises none of its characters: all of them are men, not inhuman monsters, though some of them are over-proud tyrannical men.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
Tonight I watched two films, and was sufficiently not-exhausted to enjoy them both. The first was HMS Defiant (1962) a film set in 1797 and notable for a decent amount of ship-based claustrophobia, tight plotting, Alec Guinness and Dirk Bogarde. Also, we get some ladies at the very beginning to assure the audience that all this intense homosociality is not, y'know, sodomitical. Filmed in a time when sets were cheap and extras cheaper, it has some nice tallship scenes and quite a bit of flogging.

I like tallships. I also like Alec Guinness. And good dialogue.

The other film was Les femmes de l'ombre, which interested me rather more. The English release is known as Female Agents, which is a much less striking title than The Women of Shadow. Starring Sophie Marceau, Julie Depardieu, Marie Gillain, Déborah François, Moritz Bleibtrau, Maya Sansa, and Julien Boisselier, it is the story of a group of women recruited by the SOE and sent in to France to rescue an English agent and assassinate a German SS colonel.

Salomé allegedly took his inspiration in part from the life of Lise de Baissac. The film itself is afflicted by several dozen things which make no sense for history but make rather a lot of sense in the compressed time/space of a film - although it relies on coincidence a little too much on one particular occasion. It is visually striking, although there are one or two shots that lend themselves to confusion/over-emphasis - the director has reached for the most striking, most iconic image, and reached a bit too far. At times it sways towards hackneyed emotional beats, but on the whole it resists them in favour of something much more raw.

(I'd love to see what someone with more critical chops in cinema made of it.)

It is not a perfect film, and its has a lot to do on a moderate budget. (Including some understated but nasty torture scenes.) But it is a damn good one, and I recommend it wholeheartedly - especially to anyone who read and enjoyed Code Name Verity and/or Rose Under Fire.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
Not a film, from the trailer, that I'd ever thought to see. But when I read [livejournal.com profile] mizkit's comments on it, I knew I had to go.

I succeeded in going last night, despite a cold that's turned my faculties to snot and left my tonsils feeling as though they'd been glassed. And for a film with such a premise - paramilitaries take over the White House with the President and other hostages still trapped inside, make demands of a government in constitutional crisis - it is astonishingly good. Intelligently shot, well-acted, with dialogue that's clever and appropriate much more often than it's not, it even manages to pull off a modicum of political intrigue at the same time it's shooting SAMs from the roof of the White House.

It is really pretty damn good. The 11yo political-junkie girl saves the world! Channing Tatum's Muscles and Jamie Foxx do male-bonding things with rocket launchers. Maggie Gyllenhaal is NO ONE'S LOVE INTEREST. The White House tour guide gets a Moment of Awesome. ("Stop. Hurting. My. WHITE HOUSE!") People blow up the symbols of American political hegemony - that's always good. And there's a PSA: MILITARY INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX is BAD and OWNS A LOT OF POLITICIANS.

Jamie Foxx's President Sawyer is ridiculously young-looking for a president, and full of entirely too much PEACE LOVE INTEGRITY to be in charge of the world's biggest military bully. But as an ideal of the kind of people one could wish held political power? Yeah. I like him. Can we have one, please?

And Maggie Gyllenhaal is NOT FOOLED. That's pretty amazing, too. (Hey, people who are unimaginative enough to remake Star Wars? Age up the characters a bit and cast this one as Leia Organa and Idris Elba as Han Solo. That'd get me in your cinema.)

(Today is day two of the Invasion of the Snotmonsters. We have called up the reserves but remain on the defensive. Tea and blanket supplies are running low.)
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
How in all the world is it possible for something that should be so ridiculous to be so AMAZINGLY FUN?

Guillermo del Toro must be the answer.

Guillermo del Toro should make all the GIANT FIGHTING THINGS films ever. Science fiction and fantasy film-making? Needs more Guillermo del Toro. He brings beauty and flair and makes the ridiculous sublime. The hideous beauty of the kaiju. The jaegars’ beautiful brutality. Idris Elba, outlined against the sun like the image of some martial saint.

IDRIS ELBA: AVENGING ANGEL.

IDRIS ELBA IS CANCELLING YOUR APOCALYPSE.

I agree with everything Aisha says here at Practically Marzipan. Especially YES YES YES YES YES.

It’s not perfect. But it comes a damn sight closer than most skiffy films I’ve ever seen.

And also: ROBOTS PUNCHING MONSTERS INNA FACE!
hawkwing_lb: (Liara doing)
Books 2013: 43-46


43. Kathleen Tierney (Caitlín R. Kiernan), Blood Oranges. Roc, 2013.

This is a gallows-black humorously subversive take on the urban fantasy genre. Nineteen year-old junkie werepire serial killer? Unreliable narrator? Let's do this thing.


44. Evie Manieri, Blood's Pride. Tor, 2013. (Original, Jo Fletcher Books, 2012.) Copy courtesy of Tor Books.

This book deserves more consideration from me than it's going to get in this space. Blood's Pride is a book that feels like it belongs with the Australian school of Big Fantasy. It shares a certain mood with the work of Jennifer Fallon and Trudi Canavan: light on detailed worldbuilding, long on character. It partakes of the epic sense without the bloat of Jordan, the grimness of Martin, Michelle West's touch of horror, or the baroque invention and detail of Sarah Monette, Steven Erikson, or Elizabeth Bear. It is, on the whole, easier to define Blood's Pride in terms of what it fails to do than in what it succeeds in doing. Character choices and development are not wholly predictable, but feel safe rather than radical. Without being wholly mediocre, it's structurally slack - and it takes itself a touch too seriously.

That makes it sound like I disliked the book. Not so: but I'm not blown away. I read it in two settings: there is promise here, and glimmers of invention. But Blood's Pride falls prey to the over-eager "AND THE KITCHEN SINK TOO" approach to narrative incidents typical of debuts, while not giving its cast of characters - I count six with POV: by contrast, I believe there are four POVs in Jordan's first WOT novel, of which one predominates - the time and space to develop as characters, to develop their arcs and to permit the reader to development emotional investment in their trials. Too many incidents arise too abruptly: closer attention to structure and theme, and fewer POV characters, would have made a tighter, more compelling read.

That said, it's not a bad book. It goes on the keeper shelf, and I look forward to seeing if Manieri improves her game in books to come.


45. Lisa Soem and Sunny Moiraine, Line and Orbit. Samhain Publishing, 2013. Ebook.

Belonging to that peculiar subset of science fiction better referred to as science fantasy, Line and Orbit is both a space adventure and a queer romance (between men). I did not fall in love with it, but nonetheless it is entertaining. With weird science. And magic.


46. Jacqueline Koyanagi, Ascension. Prime/Masque Books, 2013 (forthcoming August, I believe). Galley courtesy of the publisher.

Official disclaimer: I read slush for Masque, in the hopes of crushing authorial dreams. Didn't see this until I received the galley review copy, though.

LESBIANS. POLYAMOUROUS LESBIANS. IN SPAAAAAAAAAACE. The main character has an invisible disability. But it's not an issue book. Or a romance - the thematic freight is about family and belonging. In mood it reminds me of Firefly, or the dingy Mos Eisley scenes of Star Wars: A New Hope. Writing possesses solid turns of phrase, occasional vivid description. Mark your calendars, people. This is good shit, and I look forward to talking about it the next time I bring up lesbians in skiffy in the Tor.com column.




I watched Argo recently. It is a very good spy film, apart from the ludicrous airport runway chase scene at the very end. (Oh, Hollywood.) Sharp dialogue. Immensely good performances. Very low-key, very claustrophobic, very tense. Passes the Bechdel test, if barely: can't call it feminist on its face but doesn't other women, either. Recommend it.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
When I finally sat down to watch Dredd on Thursday night, as the culmination of a seven-hour skiffy film marathon with [livejournal.com profile] whitewaveraven - after The Dark Knight Rises and Resident Evil: Retribution - it blew me away. Especially in contrast to Dark Knight, with its hype and massive budget and (intermittent) acclaim.

(Let us not speak of Resident Evil: Retribution. I had not expected much by way of logic or plot from the franchise's fifth installment, but I expected more than we got - and what we got did not even string its action-scenes together with a minimum of coherence. Also, the black guy dies. Pointlessly.)

My response to The Dark Knight Rises is, essentially: WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT BRUCE WAYNE'S MANPAIN? Or Alfred's, or, for that matter, Det. John Blake's. Visually, thematically, in character and artistic terms, it's incoherent: it doesn't know what it wants to be when it grows up. There are some visually striking scenes and excellent point-counterpoint of noise and silence, but at one and the same time it is trying to be too clever and not nearly clever enough. And Christian Bale is not strong enough, in terms of presence, to sell a descent-into-torment-and-triumphant-return - especially not when Dark Knight doesn't know whether or not it's about PEOPLE OF GOOD WILL (read: cops) TAKING BACK THE CITY, or a single masked avenger's crusade against another, worse, masked avenger. It does not develop character, is what I'm saying - in fact, the only character who has a discernible arc is Anne Hathaway's Selina Kyle/Catwoman. Hathaway does brilliantly with the part - her rueful expression, half-defiant, half-apologetic, as she tells Bale's Batman she's deliberately led him into a trap to save herself is entirely marvellous - but the film doesn't actually give much to Kyle/Catwoman. Her arc takes place in the background, the overlooked places: the cat burglar who wants to leave her record behind her and start fresh, unwillingly persuaded first to assist Bane and his gang of psychopaths and then to assist Bruce Wayne/Batman to stop the GIANT NUCLEAR BOMB...

...I'd watch a film of the events of The Dark Knight Rises from the perspective of Hathaway's Kyle. It might be a much more interesting, less ultimately predictable affair.

(So our takeaway: pointless manpain and fascist/ubermensch ideals? DO NOT WANT, sez I.)

But Dredd. Dredd knows it's a film set in a fascist dystopia. Dredd is an SFnal shoot-em-up, but also - as [livejournal.com profile] glvalentine said back in September - a study in bleakness. It doesn't present a contrast between law, as personified by the Judges, and chaos in the form of criminals: under the surface slick of words, there is no contrast. Just two competing systems of power-maintenance-through-terror, meeting through the middle ground of violence.

Stylistically gorgeous, pared-down, excellent in its characterisation of its women - it doesn't quite pass the Bechdel test but it's far more feminist that Dark Knight, which does, and gives its women much more room - it has a coherent core. It's dystopic and everyone in the film knows it, but it also has empathy for every single one of its characters: even for Kay, the unrepentant drug-dealing murdering sexually violent henchman of Ma-Ma - to me, it seems the film characterises him as having made himself into the hardest, nastiest bastard he can be, because otherwise he'd be victim, not victimiser. (On the other hand, the fact that he's the only person of colour with any depth of characterisation at all is rather disappointing.)

Lena Headey is brilliant as Ma-Ma, world-weary druglord, and so is Olivia Thirlby as Anderson, the rookie Judge that Karl Urban's Dredd has for her assessment - her last chance to make it as a Judge - when they get trapped in Ma-Ma's locked-down super-slum. Thirlby's character has the shiny idealism scraped off in the course of the ever-mounting body-count... but retains enough to say, bitterly, on letting one criminal - coerced into his crimes - go: "Maybe that's the one difference I will make."

Anyway. A film I really enjoyed. One out of three ain't bad, right?

PS: I've never read the comics for either Batman or Dredd. So there's that.




Congratulations to the many souls mentioned in the Locus 2012 Recommended Reading List - although with no love for Range of Ghosts or Adaptation or Some Others I Could Mention? I think it to be... incomplete. (And bloody hell, Larry Niven is still writing things? I was... rather under the impression he had been deceased.)
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
Gemma Files on Zero Dark Thirty:

As ever, Bigelow always manages to always frame things for maximum impact and wring incredible suspense out of even the most foregone conclusions. I keep seeing that last track through the post-”Geronimo, for God and country” wreckage of bin Laden’s hideout, where she makes sure that the team’s one Muslim member is the person who gets to see all the broken heads and shot-out eyes up close and personal. And Maya, in her last appearance, sole passenger on a troop transport plane, crying because she doesn’t know where she wants to go, and probably not being entirely aware of it. So basically, what I’m saying is fuck you, fellas; whoever ends up getting that Oscar this year needs to know both that Bigelow is the motherfucker who found this place, and that this is the one to beat.



N.K. Jemisin on Gamefail bluescreen:


It’s obvious the game developers didn’t think much about how the characters in their xenophobic fantasy world would logically react to having a foreigner and a woman — and this is definitely a patriarchial, xenophobic culture — as their much-lauded savior. I don’t think the developers thought much about the characterization for this game at all, let alone on a level that acknowledges the impacts of race and gender and other socioeconomic factors, and their intersections, on worldbuilding. But here’s what’s irritating: the game pays lip service to these issues, even though it doesn’t engage with them on a deeper level.



The comment thread on Where Are The Older Women? is still going strong at 110 comments: lots of useful recommendations and hardly a troll in sight. Which makes me rather happy.

Anyway. Spent yesterday and last night hanging out with a friend who's heading off soon to Brussels to intern at Parliament. We mainlined The Dark Knight Rises (not awful), Resident Evil Retribution (awful: has not even the vaguest glimmer of plot) and Dredd (AWESOMESAUCE), about which probably (possibly) more later.

Now I must get my arse in gear and do more with my day than merely move shelves around...




Oh, wait. I forgot to log Wednesday's exercise. Mile in 12:00, treadmill; 10K exercise bike, 29:00. Some weights.

Mass: 103.5kg.
hawkwing_lb: (In Vain)
It is delightful.

I work on the assumption that every translation is a fresh recension, which tells you as much about the translator and the era as the original work. Tolkien purists will therefore never be satisfied with any of the films, because no recension can ever capture exactly the ideal.

And it delighted me. It took the tone of the LOTR films - there is consistency of vision here - and mixed it with the lighter flavour of the Hobbit for a much livelier, more humourous experience. This is a film delighted with its landscapes, with its ability to dwell on both the sublime and the ridiculous aspects of turning a - relatively tidy - children's novel in an epic fantasy with the same sprawling vision as The Lord of the Rings, and pull in appendices material. And it is both sublime and ridiculous: it made me cry with delighted satisfaction and laugh with utter glee.

Some of the action sequences are... gleefully, enthusiastically, overblown. And some of the camera swoopiness (I saw it in 2D) made me think of videogames... and Goblin Town is, well. I had Dragon Age and Skyrim flashbacks for the visual style, let's just say - so either DA borrowed more from LOTR that I don't remember, or UNDERGROUND WITH REALLY HIGH WALKWAYS is everyone's favourite epic go-to.

The real joy, though, is the performances. And the scenery, and the depth of world, and the scenery - did I mention the scenery? - but especially the performances. I am FULLY BEHIND the choice to get Cate Blanchett and Christopher Lee and Ian Holmes involved in this, even as cameos. Cate Blanchett and Sir Ian McKellan play off each other wonderfully. Martin Freeman and Ian Stott turn in immensely compelling performances. Gollum is a terror and a delight. Richard Armitage, given a good script, is much less po-faced than usual. Dean O'Gorman and Aidan Turner steal any scene they're in as Fili and Kili.

HOBBIT HOBBIT HOBBIT HOBBIT. I'm going to see it again. Soon. And I have my reason to survive the next two years. WANT MORE HOBBIT.
hawkwing_lb: (DA2 isabela facepalm)
[24α] ὥστε, ὅπερ ἀρχόμενος ἐγὼ ἔλεγον, θαυμάζοιμ᾽ ἂν εἰ οἷός τ᾽ εἴην ἐγὼ ὑμῶν ταύτην τὴν διαβολὴν ἐξελέσθαι ἐν οὕτως ὀλίγῳ χρόνῳ οὕτω πολλὴν γεγονυῖαν. ταῦτ᾽ ἔστιν ὑμῖν, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, τἀληθῆ, καὶ ὑμᾶς οὔτε μέγα οὔτε μικρὸν ἀποκρυψάμενος ἐγὼ λέγω οὐδ᾽ ὑποστειλάμενος. καίτοι οἶδα σχεδὸν ὅτι αὐτοῖς τούτοις ἀπεχθάνομαι, ὃ καὶ τεκμήριον ὅτι ἀληθῆ λέγω καὶ ὅτι αὕτη ἐστὶν ἡ διαβολὴ ἡ ἐμὴ καὶ τὰ αἴτια

since it was the very thing which I was speaking about from the beginning, I would be amazed if it would be possible for me to remove from you this slander in this little time which has existed for so long. This is the truth for you, O Athenian men, and I speak, neither concealing from you a lot or a little, nor dissembling. And indeed I know well that I am hated by these men themselves, which is a sure sign that I speak truth and that this is my slander and the causes

[24β] ταῦτά ἐστιν. καὶ ἐάντε νῦν ἐάντε αὖθις ζητήσητε ταῦτα, οὕτως εὑρήσετε.

περὶ μὲν οὖν ὧν οἱ πρῶτοί μου κατήγοροι κατηγόρουν αὕτη ἔστω ἱκανὴ ἀπολογία πρὸς ὑμᾶς: πρὸς δὲ Μέλητον τὸν ἀγαθὸν καὶ φιλόπολιν, ὥς φησι, καὶ τοὺς ὑστέρους μετὰ ταῦτα πειράσομαι ἀπολογήσασθαι. αὖθις γὰρ δή, ὥσπερ ἑτέρων τούτων ὄντων κατηγόρων, λάβωμεν αὖ τὴν τούτων ἀντωμοσίαν. ἔχει δέ πως ὧδε: Σωκράτη φησὶν ἀδικεῖν τούς τε νέους διαφθείροντα καὶ θεοὺς οὓς ἡ πόλις

are these. And if now, if once more you will investigate these things, you will find in this way.

So, concerning the things which the first prosecutors alleged against me, let this be sufficient defence against you: and against Meletos the good and patriotic, as they say, and against the latter ones, next after these I will try to make defense. For indeed once more, as if these were different accusers, let us take up afresh their sworn statement. And how does it go: Socrates, they say, does wrong both by ruining the young men and by


[24ξ] νομίζει οὐ νομίζοντα, ἕτερα δὲ δαιμόνια καινά. τὸ μὲν δὴ ἔγκλημα τοιοῦτόν ἐστιν: τούτου δὲ τοῦ ἐγκλήματος ἓν ἕκαστον ἐξετάσωμεν.

not acknowledging the gods, the ones the city acknowledges, but other, different divine things. Indeed the charge is of this kind: let us examine this accusation in each point.




There are maybe eight lines left in my assigned translations for this weekend. I'm not going to scrape them out tonight, though. I think I've reached my limit.

I spent the afternoon and most of the evening marathoning the first four Resident Evil films. I'd never seen them before. They're impressive B-movies, despite progressing through increasingly demented levels of WTFery on behalf of Corporation Evil Stupid (and some worldbuilding WTF, and Mad!Science WTFery): the first two are well-constructed and bring the BOOM; the third is sloppier but has a delightful Wagon Train Of The Zombpocalypse West vibe going on (and fucking aces the Bechdel test with its eyes closed) although the WTFery mounts to new levels; while the fourth one doesn't really balance its BOOM vs DOOM ratio quite right, and loses points in addition for structuring its climax a little too obviously like a videogame boss fight.

Boss fights are boring, on a structural level. Even drugged to the eyeballs, you can call the beats.

These aren't films to be watched for logic, but I'm legitimately impressed at how well they manage characterisation within the limitations of the genre - and how they all bloody well pass the fucking Bechdel test without looking like they're even trying, BLOODY HELL PEOPLE. For that alone, they get mad props - sad but true, so very few action films actually bother, and here is Resident Evil with its zombies and its fleshmonsters and its TENTACLE ZOMBIES WTF, and it passes the Bechdel in the first ten to twenty minutes.

Also, Milla Jovovich has real muscles. They flex. And great shoulders. So used to seeing lady actors with stringy muscles play fighter-types, it's nice to have some muscle definition in there for change.

Okay, I'm going to go lie down and read about the Thirty Years War and hope that I survive a night of primordial ooze. You guys have fun out there.
hawkwing_lb: (dreamed and are dead)
Ralph Fiennes' Coriolanus (he both directs and plays the title role) is a film adaptation of Shakespeare's play of the same name, The Tragedy of Coriolanus. The language of the play is itself only lightly adapted, but the costumes and setting have been adapted to 20th-century: Fiennes' Caius Martius Coriolanus and Gerard Butler's Aufidius the Volscian are soldiers of a Rome and a Volscia that bear a marked resemblence to modern day small warring states - shot partly in Serbia, it's hard to avoid feeling that the film's physical landscape reinforces the Balkanised sentiments of its theme.

Messengers' speeches are not infrequently delivered by television announcers - and damn, Shakespeare's messengers sound natural on the announcers' tongues - and the Roman Senate is framed almost as a modern parliament. Coriolanus' mother wears military uniform in the more formal scenes, which lends pointedness to her speeches -

"I mock at death
With as big heart as thou. Do as thou list
Thy valiantness was mine, thou suck'dst it from me,
But owe thy pride thyself"

- in particular. It is a film filled with solid performances, and an interesting take on staging Shakespeare. Definitely worth a look.
hawkwing_lb: (Helps if they think you're crazy)
Underworld: Awakening was exactly what I wanted from a vampire film. While Kate Beckinsale's Selene proved rather more bloodthirsty than in previous installments and the magic child thing was a little weird, it was an incredible amount of fun, with a dark and gloomy air.

Columbiana was less fun, but Zoe Saldana more than proved her acting chops. The colour palette was a touch on the orange side, and once again (see also Haywire) we have an uber-competent killer woman playing against an all-male cast. But otherwise, a pretty excellent film.

I have been amusing myself lately by mentally reverse-casting The Three Musketeers. So far I have decided upon:

D'Artagnan: Zoe Saldana
Aramis: Jennifer Lawrence
Porthos: Zoie Palmer
Athos: Lucy Lawless
Richlieu: Maggie Smith
M. de Tréville: Lucy Liu [livejournal.com profile] la_marquise_de_ has pointed out Michelle Yeoh would be better for the role. (And I can't really argue.)
Comte de Rochefort: Claudia Black
Buckingham: Maggie Q
Louis XIII: Gabby Sidibe
Anne of Austria: Tom Hiddleston
Milady di Winter: Idris Elba
Constance: Michael Ealy

What do you think?
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
If I had to use just one word to sum up what irks me most about The Avengers film, it would be this: wasteful.

*

It's a sprawling film. But it's all glitter. No heart. A stellar cast exchanging zinging one-liners and trading snark barbs - although neither Scarlett Johansson nor Jeremy Renner seem to have the presence to hold their own alongside their co-stars - but when you take away Robert Downey Jr. cracking wise with perfect comic timing and Samuel R. Jackson glaring one-eyed at the world, what do you have left?

A lot of explosions.

Not much else.

*

Tom Hiddleston was pitch-perfect as Loki in Thor. He's still mesmerising, coolly amusing, and strangely charming even while going full-on Wicked. But in The Avengers he is a villain for the sake of villainy: his I am a GOD and you will BOW schtick is not a very interesting motivation for any character, even one who canonically has the universe's worst case of sibling envy.

His every scene seethes with energy and chill malevolence, but even Hiddleston's chops can't inflate the hollow shell that's Loki's reason to be bad.

*

Hollowness is a problem all over. Mark Ruffalo and Chris Evans bring both talent and hotness to bear on the roles of Bruce Banner and Captain America, but they have, let's be honest, very little to work with: a film that relies for its impact on its death-or-glory action should put a little more work into getting the audience to care whether its characters live or die.

Success, after all, is a given: one hardly expects The Avengers to destroy the whole earth before it even gets a sequel.

Hotness, while appreciated, on its own just isn't enough.

*

Thor and Tony Stark actually get a smidgeon of solid characterisation. They have pre-existing film franchises of their own, but they also get more face-time with Loki, who wants to best them in ways that are very personal.

*

Let's not mention how white this film is, with the exception of Samuel R. Jackson. Or how American-centric: the end of the world can happen outside the continental states, you know. Or how male: don't tell me Marvel doesn't have another female superhero they could have used in place of Hawkeye.

But that would have made four women with speaking parts, and three women who get fighty with the boys: as it is, I'm not sure Agent Hill (played with understated competence and solid presence by Cobie Smulders) is even in the same room as Johansson's Black Widow at any point, much less allowed to exchange words with her.

*

The Avengers is a film in love with its own conceits and its own hype, wedded to style - big, garish, flashy style - over substance. Take away a few of its toys - like the giant pointless ridiculous flying aircraft-carrier, WTF my suspension of disbelief, you pushed it, over - and given the script more snark and fewer pointless fighty bits, and it could have been so much better.

I am fond of fighty bits. I liked Battleship, for the sweet godless heavens' sakes; I watched Thor and the first Iron Man more than once. But there comes a point when fighty bits stop being entertaining and become ridiculously self-indulgent, and The Avengers hits that point rather early on.

*

The Avengers: it entertained me less than Battleship.

Although it does have better snark, Chris Hemsworth (sadly not shirtless), and Robert Downey Jr (also sadly not shirtless).
hawkwing_lb: (In Vain)
I am still unpleasantly sick. The worst now, however, is the fact that the skin of my nose and upper lip is chapped and abraded from the constant nose-blowing of the last two days. Since I forgot to get either Vaseline or chapstick in my run to the chemist earlier this morning (and am extraordinary reluctant to go out again today), I am raiding my small knowledge of ancient medicine what is alleged to work, and applying a mixture of honey and oil to decrease the dry flakiness.

This is doubtless more information than you ever wanted concerning my nose.

In other news: I watched Immortals today. Plot aside, it is a beautiful film, visually striking, very stylish. Well-acted, with dialogue that did not often descend to cliché. The plot is utter nonsense, although the progression thereof actually manages a tense arc. It's worth watching for the pretty, though.

I also watched Underworld for the first time in years, and remembered why I loved it: it is tailor-made to hit a great many of my narrative kinks in the shortest possible space of time.

And since I'm out of things to say, go read Jim Hines being smart and funny again.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
Battleship: not a good film, but a ridiculously awesome one.

I realise this is something of a contradiction in terms. Bear with me.

To be honest, one could skip the first ten or twenty minutes of the film and lose very little by it. Introductory material: our protagonist, Alex Hopper, is a screwup with an ego who'll do anything to impress a girl, and whose brother inveigles him into joining the US Navy. Meanwhile, scientists are sending out signals to a newly-discovered planet in the Goldilocks zone. Fastforward a few years, and Hopper's ship is on maneuvers with an international flotilla, and the signals have caused aliens to come investigate/invade (because Hollywood signals travel faster than the speed of light, as always).

Cue explosions, and a ridiculously entertaining amount of BOOM ALIENS EXPLODING SHIPS ALIENS BOOM.

I could live without the framing of the (blond, skinny, civilian) love interest as a collection of bodyparts whose father's permission is required for marriage. (Although she does get a small moment of awesome all her own.) But apart from that there is an un-sexualised female Navy PO (played by Rihanna) who fires the big guns. She appears to be the only lady in the Navy, judging by the film! But, still. It is nice to have a lady making things go BOOM.

This is basically space opera on the Pacific Ocean. There is character development (in small amounts) and a plot arc: solid tension, unprepossessing dialogue that occasionally breaks out into half-decent banter, and several CROWNING MOMENTS OF SPLODEY AWESOME.

Ahem. Sorry. Got carried away there.

The battleship of the title? Comes into play. Best over-the-mantlepiece battleship ever.

The last five minutes of the film are terrible and saccharine and my god we are here for the SPLODEY BITS not the sentiment people! MORE SPLODEY BITS!

It hit a bunch of my narrative kinks: do-or-die (do-and-die) bravery, last stands, nick-of-time reversals, splodey bits, a woman with a big gun.

In conclusion: REALLY GOOD SPLODEY BITS.
hawkwing_lb: (Default)
So today I set out on my intrepid journey across Athens to find the one cinema (in the not-quite-a-suburb of Pangrati) that was showing John Carter. This cinema lairs in a shopping centre that is tiny even compared to Irish shopping centres, slightly dingy, and, well, all told? Not very prepossessing, although four storeys tall inside.

It took me an hour and some to walk across the city, and I had time to lunch on chips and coke in a nearby KFC outlet before I bought my ticket, since I'd left myself a Getting Lost margin that I turned out not to need.

I was the only person in the cinema.


John Carter is better and more coherent than the hot mess that was Conan (2011). It beats out Transformers and POTC: On Stranger Tides as well. In terms of coherency, it probably has an edge on the last Indiana Jones film.

Don't get me wrong, it's an entertaining film. But Taylor Kitsch, who plays our titular male lead, has only limited charisma and screen presence. He's pretty, but pretty isn't nearly enough to carry a film. His essential blandness wasn't helped by the directorial choice to play things large and exaggerated: much of the framing has a comic-book feel, and such a choice needs someone with screen presence (Johnny Depp, for example, or Liam Neeson, or Idris Elba, or Matt Damon) to keep it from veering into the cartoonish.

But it has airships and explosions and TWO WOMEN. A green woman with four arms (Sola) voiced by Samantha Morton, and Lynn Collins' Dejah Thoris, Regent of the Royal Helium Academy of Science. (She's the daughter of a king, but by god, she introduces herself as a scientist first.) These two women don't talk to each other. But in their own ways, they both drive the plot much more than the titular Carter. Who is out-charisma'd in every scene by everyone around him, but particularly by Collins.

Apart from the airships and a couple of moments of Pure Awesome involving Dejah Thoris (Scientist Princess!) it didn't hit my narrative squids. But it wasn't a wasted two hours, either: it's entertaining planetary romance, and airships! It has airships! (I forgive much for airships, and scientists with swords.)

Sadly, Dejah Thoris would be more awesome if she and the green lady ran away together, rather than falling in lust with John Carter. Her lust/love actions only make sense if she's trying to get him to join her cause, because really? What does a smart, tough girl like her see in him apart from his muscles?

Some nice touches: several random spear-carriers were women, and their armour (or lack of it) was just like everyone else's. Airships! Landscape shots.

Things that didn't make me happy: the Mysterious Ebil Guys' motivations are completely inexplicable. Apart from Destruction Gives Us A Happy, which is not a very sensible motivation?
hawkwing_lb: (DA 2 scaring the piss)
Operation See The Hunger Games accomplished. (I negotiated for my ticket in Greek and everything.)

That was a good film, despite the cinema sticking a bloody intermission in the middle of it. I'm impressed with the translation of the novel to the big screen: it feels very faithful. The first part of the film, up until the start of the titular Games proper, hits the emotional beats incredibly well, as does the dénouement. The Games themselves are well-paced and well shot, but I think the director backed off from some of the emotional ugliness there - the beats fell off, but I'm not quite sure I can put my finger on why.

Jennifer Lawrence has turned in a fantastic, nuanced performance. The only other things I've seen her in are Winter's Bone (quietly, understatedly, wrenchingly brilliant) and the hot mess that was X-Men First Class, which despite excellent performances from her and Fassbender and the other guy never quite managed to cohere into anything good.

Also, if anyone, oh, for example, wanted to gift me with the soundtrack for my birthday or something? I liked that soundtrack. I mean, a little overblown at points, but pretty decent.

Go see the film. It's pretty damn good. And has women! Who talk to each other!




Tomorrow I will have other things to say. About things like books, and Rizzoli & Isles and other suchlike matters. Until soon!
hawkwing_lb: (DA2 isabela facepalm)
"The Debt" is a strange and compelling film starring Helen Mirren and Jessica Chastain. Beautifully shot, with a solid performance from Dame Helen as retired Mossad agent Rachel Singer, and excellent performances from Jessica Chastain (as the younger Rachel Singer) and Jesper Christensen (as Nazi war criminal Dieter Vogel), it works best in its 1960s scenes of East Berlin, with psychologically real, tense, claustrophic drama. Viewed as a whole, though the film never quite coheres: I would have liked, at least, to feel more emotional investment in Helen Mirren's older Singer.


"The Tempest" is strange, compelling, and utterly gorgeous. Julie Taymour's screen adaptation of Shakespeare's final play stars Helen Mirren as Prospera, the exiled Duchess of Milan, and Felicity Jones as her daughter Miranda. Djimon Hounsou plays Caliban, and Ben Whishaw's Ariel is playfully, occasionally creepily, spirit-like. The rest of the cast is likewise excellent.

But Helen Mirren is the star of the show. She should play arrogant manipulative superheroes more often, because she's fantastic at it.

Really. Helen Mirren. Go watch it.
hawkwing_lb: (Aveline is not amused)
Books 2012: 19


19. Saladin Ahmed, Throne of the Crescent Moon. DAW, 2012. Book One of the Crescent Moon Kingdoms.

I first heard of [livejournal.com profile] saladinahmed in the misty past of late 2010, via [livejournal.com profile] matociquala. There's a story of his on Beneath Ceaseless Skies that I read shortly thereafter. I've been looking forward to reading Throne of the Crescent Moon, his debut, for over a year.

(Why? Because I've nursed a certain tenderness for medieval Arab culture since my first introduction to the poems of Jalal al-Din Rumi and the travelogue of Ibn Battutah - I even went off to read the Qu'ran all the way through in order to better understand the references, especially in lads like Ibn Khaldun and Osama ibn Munqidh - and the idea of an Arab-inspired fantasy is incredibly attractive to me. Also people kept saying Look forward to this.)

(I haven't had time to read all the Thousand and One Nights. Do you know that the Penguin translation's in three volumes of about a thousand words each?)

Anyway. I'm supposed to be reviewing this properly for Strange Horizons, so I'll be brief. Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, a sixty-year-old ghul hunter, and his young assistant, the dervish Raseed bas Raseed, fight crime evil magic. Adoulla's been doing it his whole life, and he's a little tired of it. Now evil sorcery is attempting to gain dominion over his home city of Dhamsawaat. Adoulla and Raseed, together with Zamia, a young Badawi girl who can turn into a lion, and Adoulla's long-time friends, an alkhemist and her magus husband, must oppose the shadowy wickedness aiming at the Khalif's throne - not because it's the Khalif's throne, but because it's Adoulla's home.

Reading it, I was reminded a lot of Robert E. Howard. This is solid adventure fantasy, sword and sorcery style. But Howard was a racist, sexist sack of shit (however fun Conan is), and Ahmed isn't. Ahmed doesn't overlook consequences, either. Adoulla's Dhamsawaat is a city of the poor and middling, not the wealthy inner circle of court. Ahmed has a deft touch with his setting, and makes it come alive. He's also not half bad at characterisation. (That's an understatement.)

The book does suffer from first-novel problems, however. In the first few chapters especially, it's clear that Ahmed is still finding his voice, still feeling his way into the structure of a novel. The pacing and tension remains uneven, and only gradually do isolated incidents begin to acquire coherence in the larger narrative. Though the tension becomes more controlled and focused towards the end, it does wobble some, and it doesn't always feel as though Ahmed's in control of his novel's structure. But it is enormously fun.

Also? It is refreshing to read a novel with medieval Islam at the heart of its cultural setting, and not medieval Catholicism or neopaganism.

More details, nit-picking, etc, will happen in the Real Review. For now, I would like to ask [livejournal.com profile] saladinahmed or the knowledgeable internets if there's a sequel in the works, because that's solid work and I would like more of it, please.




The Three Musketeers (2011) is a superhero film in period costume. I suspect Dumas would approve. Me, I think it's a perfectly entertaining ridiculous way to spend ~two hours.
hawkwing_lb: (DA 2 scaring the piss)
Haywire's style is almost minimalist. Long stretches of stillness and understated camerawork are punctuated by scenes of intense violence, explosive in their impact and physically visceral. The violence is, moreover, counterpointed by the very ordinary locations where it takes place: a diner, a Spanish street, a dry-cleaner's, a hotel room. However integral to the lives of its characters, Haywire recognises the absurd shock - or shocking absurdity - when violence breaches the boundaries of everyday life.

Characteristic of this film is a willingness to let the camera do the work. There's no loud, emotionally manipulative score, no CGI, no impossible stunts - although the fight choreography is outstanding - and the dialogue, while believable, is forgettable in a way the visuals are not. Gina Carano as Mallory Kane has a physical charisma that completely overshadows the film's men, though her colleagues read like a who's who of Hollywood's most eligable bachelors (Channing Tatum, Ewan McGregor, Michael Fassbender - although Fassbender can almost hold his own when in the same frame).

In a way, I want to compare Haywire to Hanna: they have a similar understated, accomplished cinematography, a similar counterpoint of quiet and intensity. But where Hanna has the quasi-mythical logic of a fairytale, Haywire marries the spy thriller to the woman-done-wrong - although in Haywire's case, refreshingly, the wrong done is professional. It's tense and compelling, and although Carano is practically the only woman in the film, very little about her is sexualised: you always have the sense that you're watching an athlete, a dangerous one.*

If Haywire has a flaw, it's that it packs so much implication into the actions of the players - the contracting company, the Frenchman, the government, the Spanish bloke who works for the State Dept. - and never tries too hard to clarify their motives. "Money. It's always about the money," is the one clear statement we do get, and that's not quite enough. But on the whole, it's a small flaw in a film that gets many things right.

A little googling uncovered the fact that Haywire, like Hanna, was made on a budget of less than half of the 2006 average cost of a major studio production, and less than a fifth of the cost of 2007's Transformers. Which leads me to say: Hollywood! Make more films like this! Fewer films like that!

Yeah, anyway. Go see it. Gina Carano is worth the price of admission.

(Also? Bonus shirtless Michael Fassbender.)

*Which of course you are, since Carano competes (competed?) professionally in Muay Thai and MMA.
hawkwing_lb: (DA 2 scaring the piss)
Books 2011: 124-127


124. Sherwood Smith, Once A Princess.

Ebook. YA. Tolerably entertaining portal fantasy involving royalty from another world and handsome pirates. First book of two. Cliffhanger ending.


125. Walter Jon Williams, Deep State.

ARG thriller starring Dagmar from This Is Not A Game. Set partly in Turkey, partly on an RAF base in Cyprus: Williams makes the milieu feel right. Brilliant twisty story.


126. Susan R. Matthews, An Exchange of Hostages.

Out of print science fiction with a space operatic feel. Intriguingly grim, fascinatingly brutal, with an extremely well-drawn main character and solid prose chops. Recommended, if you can stomach reading about torture.


127. David Weber, A Beautiful Friendship.

YA set in the Honorverse. Not outstanding. Review forthcoming from Tor.com: I'll linky when it's live.





Film un-reviews

Way of the Warrior: Utterly forgettable Asian assassin Goes West, My Son, with a baby and a shitload of bad memories. The cinematography isn't brilliant, either.

Fair Game: Naomi West and Sean Penn star as Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson in this dramatisation of the Plame scandal. A well-cast, well-written, well-put-together film.

Attack the Block: Brilliant piece of low-budget science fiction. Aliens invade a block of London council flats, leading to showdowns with the local teenage hard boys, a nurse, and a couple of stoners. Excellent dialogue, tight writing, well shot, and a surprising amount of social criticism. And it passes the Bechdel Test in spirit, if not in fact. (I was distracted by the furry aliens with sharp teeth, okay?) Excellent.

Ironclad: After King John signs the Magna Carta, he hires a Scandinavian army to kill his barons and take back his absolute rights as king. A small band of warriors led by a baron and a Knight Templar seize Rochester castle with the intent of holding out until the archbishop of Canterbury can persuade the French to relieve them. A tense, brutal siege plays out to the final hours. Well written, well cast, well shot, with at least one strong female character - "I am not a sin," she tells the templar - and some fascinating bits of medieval siege warfare. Castle go BOOM! Excellent.

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