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?

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.

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

And so it ends.

I went to see The Battle of The Five Armies this past Saturday in 3D, a format I still feel unnecessary and gimmicky although I will admit to some pretty cool effects because of it (that snow!!). There’s no denying that The Hobbit trilogy has been inferior to The Lord of the Rings but it’s still been an entertaining film series and The Battle of the Five Armies was a solid finish, if a bit unsatisfying at times.

Spoiler Alert! I will be talking about what happens in this movie so if you haven’t seen it and/or haven’t read the book, you might want to hold off reading this until you have done one or both. Unless you just don’t care, in which case keep reading!

Here’s some of the good:

  • Smaug. Smaug Smaug Smaug. Is it too late to make a movie solely about him? A prequel or a movie from his perspective, something like that? Because that character is excellent. His design, his voice, just his absolutely magnificent self. And when he dies, well, I might have teared up a bit.
  • Defeating the Necromancer. Not actually in the book, this is part of the White Council storyline added from the appendices. It’s fantastic to see how powerful Galadriel is. And while I’ve seen some criticism (since the first Desolation of Smaug trailer actually) about how flirty Gandalf and Galadriel are, I disagree with that strongly. They are two of the most powerful beings in Middle-earth and are also good friends. I see no reason to think that their deep affection for each other has anything slightly romantic about it.
  • Bard and Thranduil. Luke Evans and Lee Pace were perfect choices. It’s no wonder that Bard became the leader of Laketown and it was nice to see the beginnings of those leadership qualities in Bain as well. And Thranduil was still his weirdly fabulous self but we got to see the Elvenking in action here rather than just the cautious recluse.
  • Bilbo. This probably should go without saying but Martin Freeman as Bilbo was an inspired choice.

There were several things about this movie that bothered me, like how little we saw of Bilbo, the confused battle scenes, and the open ending of most of the story lines.  By the end of the film there’s a lot left unexplained and I don’t know if this is because of bad storytelling, or perhaps that Peter Jackson didn’t want to make the same mistake he was accused of with Return of the King where there were about 10 endings (all good and necessary in my opinion though). I’m hoping we get the closure I’m wanting in the extended edition. For example, what happens to Tauriel? Does she go to the North with Legolas to look for the Dunedain? Is she still banished? Why did we only see Beorn and Radagast for just long enough to register that they were at the battle? Granted, Beorn’s change was pretty cool but then…we never see him again. Could Fili and Kili not have had a better ending? I don’t mean the manner in which they were killed, but the last we see of them is just laying where they fell. At least Thorin was given the respect of a show of grief when found by the other dwarves. And what of Bard and the other survivors of Laketown? At the end of the battle, they are just looking at the front gate of the Lonely Mountain. I’m really (really, really) hoping that these questions are answered with the material added to the extended edition but even then- the theatrical version shouldn’t be just a first draft for the “real” movie we see with the extended version.

For a better and more in-depth review, you can’t do better than Sorina Higgins’ for Christianity Today. And be sure to read her follow up post on what exactly is missing from the movie, some of which I’ve mentioned above.

What did y’all think?

Maleficent

This movie had a lot against it in my opinion. I’ve never been a huge fan of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (#BeautyandtheBeast4lyfe!) and I get tired of villains being made sympathetic. Sometimes evil really is just evil. But this retelling worked, for the most part.

First the bad:

  • The Moors, where Maleficent lives, looks a bit like it was taken from the latest straight-to-DVD Tinkerbell release. It’s sugary bright and seems unsuited for the tone of the movie which, yes, is family-friendly, but that doesn’t need to mean it looks like a cartoon.
  •  I understand the idea behind this movie is that we’ve been told the wrong story. But the main character’s name is Maleficent, her assistant’s name is Diaval, she has big devil horns, and her wings look like they came straight from a gigantic bird of prey. Either she’s a villain, or the deck’s been stacked against her in a big way.
  • Aurora is under the curse for all of what, an hour? While I understand the need to continue the plot of the story, it’s hard to take the curse seriously when we know she’s not going to be fighting it long.

Now the good:

  • I don’t like Angelina Jolie. All I can think when I see her is the absolutely crazy (bad crazy, not fun crazy!) antics she used to perform pre-Brad Pitt and motherhood. But she somehow fits perfectly in this role, both as good Maleficent and bad (that mouth!).
  • Goodness. That wing stealing scene is brutal (in the best way?!). It’s a powerful and absolutely believable back story to the bad Maleficent. Not only has the best part of her physically been stolen, but her heart has truly been broken, by the loss of her wings and a betrayal from the man she loved and thought loved her in return.
  • But love! The great redeemer. And not romantic love. We meet Prince Phillip, but he only meets Aurora once before the curse takes effect and while there’s an obvious attraction, his kiss does not break the spell. SPOILER It’s Maleficent! She watches over Aurora from birth and even before learning to love the little princess, Maleficent begins her redemption by caring for Aurora. It’s lovely and not entirely unexpected, but still nice to see this recent theme in movies and TV that non-romantic love is just as valuable and powerful as romantic love.

What did you think?