The Martian

Goodness. Where have I been? And how in the world am I finally finding time to write in the midst of the holiday season? I don’t know. I do know I’ve missed this outlet for myself. Is it too early to be talking about New Year’s Resolutions? Well here’s mine: to start writing more. And not just here- it’s time to really work on getting the stories in my head down on paper.

TheMartianCover

Anyways. I remember when The Martian first showed up in the library. I didn’t check it out immediately, despite how interesting it sounded, because we have a strong policy at work that staff are not ever, ever, EVER to be the first to check out new books. So I put it aside and watched despondently as the waiting list grew and grew and grew. And when the list finally started to go down, news about the movie came out. The list, naturally, then climbed up even higher than it had been. Being myself, I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie and I really wanted to see the movie. So I’m a bit ashamed to admit this, but I bought the book rather than wait for it to come to me at the library. It turned out alright though because I ended up loving it.

Mars has always had a special place in my heart. As a child, I had the most beautiful golden blonde hair and bright blue eyes (both of which, to my everlasting regret, darkened the older I got). Those aren’t unusual physical characteristics, to be sure, but when both parents and my only sister had brown hair and brown eyes, I felt out of place. And so, in my mind, I created a story where I was adopted from Mars. This solved the problem of my strange coloring for me. I loved Mars. I don’t know why; I have a feeling it’s because Mars was red (my favorite color) and that it was named after the god of war (I’ve always had a disturbingly martial side to my personality that is fortunately rarely acted on). Once I got older, that love grew with the discovery of Ray Bradbury and his sublimely beautiful stories of Martians with dark skin and golden eyes who lived in glass palaces and swam in clear blue canals.

I suppose it was a given that I would love this book then, since it combined my love of Mars with a fascinating survival tale. It was much funnier than I was expecting with science and math that mostly went far above my understanding, yet still incredibly heart-warming. And the movie was an admirable adaptation. I had some issues with changes to characters and events but it’s one thing to read about a man alone on Mars and it’s another thing to see a man, alone, on Mars. And getting to see the visual adaptation was a nice complement to the book. So yeah, you’ve probably seen or read The Martian already. But if you haven’t, I recommend it.

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The Feminist Mad Max

I remember when I first learned there was going to be a new Mad Max movie. I was ecstatic. It was a teaser on a DVD and it was quite some time ago (I want to say a year, maybe even a year and a half?). It was a teaser in the true sense of the word: short, disconnected images flashing across the screen with little speech. It was hard to tell the plot then but with a movie like this the plot isn’t that important. Basically all I knew was that it had Charlize Theron and Tom Hardy as Max.

And now I’ve seen it. And yes, it IS as good as everyone’s saying. The action starts almost immediately and by action I mean the car chase. Because essentially the Mad Max movies are drawn out car chases- a simultaneous warning against and glorification of car culture taken to the extremes. By now, most everyone has probably seen this movie if they are going to so I don’t see a need to go through what it’s about. But if you’ve read anything about Fury Road, you know that this is a “feminist” movie. As far as I can make out, it’s considered a feminist movie because it has a main female character, Imperator Furiosa, who is not there to be a love interest, a damsel in distress, or a well shaped body for men to ogle at. She is a remarkable woman and leader who is better than the men at quite a few things- and the men even acknowledge this. She is, in fact, portrayed like a human being. I think we can all agree that Hollywood has problems with creating female characters and Mad Max: Fury Road is a step in the right direction.

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That being said, I have a problem with the idea that this is what feminism means now. Because Furiosa is being hailed as a hero because of how traditionally masculine her actions are. She fights, she shoots guns, she blows stuff up, she kills people. The only thing that really differentiates her from the other (male) characters is that she has a more delicate bone structure. And you can make the argument that there is no place for traditional femininity in a Mad Max movie (and I’ll probably agree with you on a lot of points), I’m tired of being told that the women I should admire are the ones that act like men. While part of me loves Imperator Furiosa, with her toughness and fight skills, just as large a part of me wants to see elegant ladies in beautiful dresses having tea parties, which is probably why I loved the recent Cinderella movie so much. So yes, let’s admire Furiosa and Fury Road for creating women that act like human beings but let’s also stop acting like the only admirable women are the ones that act like men.

Here’s a movie review of Fury Road that better expresses what I’m trying to say about Mad Max “Feminism”.

Cinderella Review

I went to see the new Cinderella movie with a friend last week and absolutely loved it. It was sweet and innocent and just all around lovely. My only issue? Not enough Helena Bonham-Carter (she’s been a long time favorite of mine). But the real stand out here was the set and costume design, both of which were absolutely magnificent. It was a glorious riot of Rococo, Victoriana, and 1940’s influences that, at times, had me paying more attention to what people were wearing and where they were standing than what they were actually talking about. So rather than talking about the movie, I’ll just show you.

The young Cinderella and her mother.

The young Ella and her mother.

Cinderella's daily wear- nicer than most of my good clothes.

Cinderella’s daily wear- nicer than most of my good clothes.

Cate Blanchett as the stepmother and the two stepsisters. I liked that the stepsisters weren't physically ugly, they just had pretty ugly personalities.

Cate Blanchett as the stepmother and the two stepsisters. I liked that the stepsisters weren’t physically ugly, they just had pretty ugly personalities.

I loved the rather lurid pinks and yellows that the stepsisters were dressed in. They always matched exactly and they always wore their color. And the dresses were beautiful, just maybe not in a color I would ever wear.

I loved the rather lurid pinks and yellows that the stepsisters were dressed in. They always matched exactly and they always wore their color. And the dresses were beautiful, just maybe not in a color I would ever wear.

Prince Kit, also known as King in the North. I like him better scruffy but he makes a good, clean cut Disney Prince. Most of his costumes were military style, but they were still ornate with beautiful details like the design seen on this hunting coat.

Prince Kit, also known as King in the North. I like him better scruffy but he makes a good, clean cut Disney Prince. Most of his costumes were military style, but they still had ornate and beautiful details like the design seen on this hunting coat.

Helena Bonham-Carter looking absolutely luminous as the fairy godmother. At times I found her even prettier than Cinderella (but that could just be my own personal bias...).

Helena Bonham-Carter looking absolutely luminous as the fairy godmother. At times I found her even prettier than Cinderella (but that could just be my own personal bias…).

The step family at the ball. There was always so. much. going on with the sisters' gowns.

The step family at the ball. There was always so. much. going on with the sisters’ gowns.

Cinderella's marvel of a ball gown. I wanted to touch it so badly. All those petticoats! The shimmeriness! The tulle! The twirliness! I can't get enough of it!

Cinderella’s marvel of a ball gown. I wanted to touch it so badly. All those petticoats! The shimmeriness! The tulle! The twirliness! I can’t get enough of it!

I'm not normally a huge fan of wedding dresses but this one was pretty nice. Surprisingly subdued, but look at the embroidery on it! Lovely.

I’m not normally a huge fan of wedding dresses but this one was pretty nice. Surprisingly subdued, but look at the embroidery on it! Lovely.

Has anyone else seen this version yet? What did you think of it?

The Anti-Romantic List

Despite a longtime love for Disney princesses and Jane Austen, I’ve never been a fan of romantic stories. I know there are plenty of other people who share my indifference (or outright distaste) for overly sappy love stories so I’ve decided to compile a list of books where women are the main characters and the main plot line has nothing to do with a romantic relationship (and maybe a few movies/TV shows if I feel that they are outstanding examples). If you’ve read some or all of these examples you will know that some of these stories do have a romantic side plot- that’s fine for me, I’m really just looking for books where the main focus is elsewhere. Since I would like to continue adding to this list (for myself and for anyone else that is interested), I will also be creating a new page and updating it as I come across other examples. (Links to previous reviews if I’ve written them.)

Please send me suggestions for other books if you can think of any; there are certain areas/authors where my knowledge is woefully short!

THE LIST

1) The Queen of The Tearling by Erika Johansen. I have a feeling this will skew towards romance between two characters at some point in the trilogy, but in the first book at least there is very little.

2) The Old Kingdom books (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen, Clariel) by Garth Nix. There’s a smidge of romance in Sabriel and Abhorsen but these books are all mainly about girls saving the world.

3) The Rook by Daniel O’Malley. One of my favorite books. Even better- a sequel, Stilletto, is coming out in just months!

4) Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis. Even though this is a retelling of the Cupid and Psyche myth, the main story is about the love of Orual for her sister Psyche.

5) Chalice by Robin McKinley. This was the first book I read by Robin McKinley and I loved it enough to keep reading more of her work.

6) Guardian of the Dead by Karen Healey. Another of my favorites. There is a love interest, but it’s a side story. It could easily stand without it.

7) The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. This changes drastically in the second and third books, but Lyra is one heck of a (non-romantic) heroine in this book.

8) A Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket. I’m fudging a bit on this one, but 2 of the three orphans are female so I’m including it.

9) The A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin. Can we count this? It’s my list so I say yes. I love these books and I love the female characters in this series (mostly) but I would tremble to see what Martin would ever write as “romantic”.

10) The Amulet Series by Kazu Kibuishi. Beautiful art, cool female characters.

11) Wild Girls by Mary Stewart Atwell. I didn’t particularly like this book but it is a fantasy and the book deals mainly with the mystery behind the girls’ behavior.

12) The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland by Catherynne Valente. Another book I didn’t particularly like but, again, a girl character is kicking butt.

13) Sea Change by S. M. Wheeler. Heavily inspired by the Grimms’ fairy tales, Lily goes on a journey to save her best friend, a kraken, who has been captured. This book was unsettling and I ultimately decided not to review it here once I finished it. It was good, but not something I would ever want to read again.

And to finish, some movies that really need no description:

14) Brave.

15) Pacific Rim. (Technically, Mako Mori is a co-main character I guess, but I love this movie and she’s not just there as a prize to be won.)

16) Hanna.

17) Alien.

So I notice that a lot of these books have young girls as the protagonist but hopefully, now that I’ve started this list, I (or you!) will start noticing/reading more books where the main female does something besides fall in love. And again, suggestions are always welcome!

A Bit of Horror

Despite the fact that I am an absolute coward, I still love a good horror movie. And no, I don’t mean movies like Saw or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre where the fear factor comes from crazed maniacs wielding sharp objects and blood splashes across everything. I’m talking the sort of movies that unsettle you and make you wish you weren’t alone. I recently watched two movies that have been highly praised although one turned out to be very disappointing. (Spoilers to follow)

I’ll start with the movie I liked least. Oculus, directed by Mike Flanagan, came out in 2013. This seemed like the type of horror movie I like best- scary, not gory, with an actual plot. Kaylie and Tim are siblings in their early 20’s. Eleven years before, both parents went insane, their father shot their mother and then Tim shot their father. Tim was charged for their father’s death and has spent the time in a mental institution while Kaylie went through the foster system and spends her life to tracking down the mirror that she believes is responsible for the horrors they went through. In present day, Kaylie is working in an auction house where the mirror is now being kept and Tim has just been released from the mental institution after finally accepting that he was responsible for the death of his father. So far so good. But while it’s generally well-reviewed, it just seemed to lack something to me. Not scares, that’s for sure, as there were plenty of times where I was looking anywhere but the screen. But some of them were expected, some were hard to believe, and some were downright stupid. For example, please watch this clip:

Right after that clip ends, Kaylie goes to investigate the cloth covered statues. All three are still there, including the taller one in the middle that mysteriously appeared in the mirror. But instead of pulling the cloth off that one- the one in the middle that first appeared while she was looking in the mirror- she pulls the cloth off the side statues first! I realize that those statues seem to have moved as well but any thinking person truly investigating that would have looked at the middle statue first! Right? I mean, does that not seem weird to anyone else? It’s a dumb decision that seems created only to lead to a cheap scare. There’s also an issue of deciphering what’s real and what is simply happening in the characters’ heads. I had several smaller problems with the story but these were the major ones. And while it was well acted, this did not turn out to be a movie that I could really recommend.

And now moving on to the movie I did like: Willow Creek. Directed by Bobcat Goldthwait, Willow Creek is a found footage movie about Bigfoot. Kelly and Jim have traveled to the real life Willow Creek in Northern California to film a documentary. Jim, an avid Bigfoot believer, has always wanted to travel to Willow Creek, which is the real life location of the Patterson-Gimlin film to try and get his own footage (technically the 1967 footage was filmed in Bluff Creek, but Willow Creek is considered the gateway to Bluff Creek and other claimed Bigfoot sighting locations). It’s a slow build kind of creepy and doesn’t get truly terrifying until the last 5 or 10 minutes but it’s an incredible film that I fell in love with instantly. Highly recommended if you can get your hands on it.

Jupiter Ascending

Am I the only one who liked this movie? Granted, it had plenty of problems but overall I enjoyed it. (Disclaimer: I wanted to like this movie. And generally when I want to like something, I do.)

Jupiter (played by Mila Kunis) is an illegal immigrant from Russia, spending her days as a house cleaner with her mother and aunt. But it turns out she’s actually a genetic copy of a Queen (sort of) and she gets thrown into a dynastic struggle between the heirs of that queen that takes her throughout space with, naturally, nothing less than the Earth itself at stake. It’s got Channing Tatum as a love interest, Sean Bean as a helper/protector/guide (who DOES NOT die – astounding!) and Eddie Redmayne as the villain.

It’s silly and a bit overblown and sometimes feels like it might be taking itself a bit too serious but I found it to be a fun movie. Done by the same people that made the Matrix trilogy and Cloud Atlas, it’s absolutely gorgeous to look at. There are flaws (including a penchant for Jupiter to rarely travel beyond the damsel in distress) but if you’re looking for a fun movie to spend a few hours, you could do worse than this one.

CHAPPiE

Happy New Year!

There’s a lot of great stuff in the fantasy/sci-fi realm coming out in 2015 but the one I’m most excited about is CHAPPiE. I’ve been seeing the previews a lot recently in front of movies that are out already and while I realize that previews are meant to make movies look as appealing as possible, CHAPPiE‘s got a lot going for it.

CHAPPiE‘s written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, the same guy behind District 9 (excellent) and Elysium (not as excellent). It looks weird, but also uplifting, which is nice because how often do we see that in movies about advanced AI? CHAPPiE started out as a short video called Tetra Vaal that you can see here.

It comes out on March 6th.

Another movie this year that looks pretty exciting is Ex Machina. A bad AI movie (maybe?), it stars Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac and is directed by Alex Garland (who also directed Sunshine, 28 Days Later and Dredd).

What are y’all excited about this year?