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”.

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.

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?

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?

Interstellar

This was not a movie I planned on seeing, at least not in the theater. I like Christopher Nolan; Momento, the Batman movies, and Inception were all good movies that hold up well under repeated viewings. But I don’t particularly like Matthew McConaughey or Anne Hathaway and, well, we all know how I feel about Space. But a friend wanted to see it on a mutual day off so I obliged, knowing there was very little chance it would be outright bad.

Sometime in the future, the Earth is dying. Crops are failing and the atmosphere is steadily growing worse. Humanity’s only hope for a future is to find a home somewhere else.

I’ve had this post sitting in my drafts now for about 2 weeks, trying to figure out what to write about this movie. If you’re going to see the movie in theaters, you probably already have and I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

But here are mine. It’s a lovely movie, about exploration and bravery, about love, about hope, about the best of what makes us human. But it’s also about what makes us monsters, the fear and loneliness, pride and stubbornness that lead us down paths with no return. I can’t speak to the accuracy of the science or even, if I’m honest, if the science makes the least bit of sense at all. It’s just not something I understand well and there are plenty of other places that can explain it better than me. But it works for the story and ultimately that’s all I’m interested in.

So what did you think?