Real Talk: The Force Awakens and the First Order

KyloRen

EDIT: SPOILER ALERT. JESUS WEPT, SO MANY SPOILERS.

EDIT 2: FYI WELL, YEAH, THIS IS JUST, LIKE, MY OPINION, MAN

I’ve seen a few hot takes so far on The Force Awakens, and more specifically on Kylo Ren as the primary antagonist. Summed up, they largely go as follows: “The Force Awakens is a re-tread of A New Hope. Let’s list the ways in which it differs, and pin these as failures on the Big Board of Abrams Hatred.” One of the points that comes up a lot is that Kylo Ren is no Darth Vader. Look at him! With his troubled brow, his pigeon chest and his crossguard lightsaber!* He isn’t even slightly scary!

My hot take: that’s the point. He’s not meant to be imposing. He’s not meant to have presence. He’s the very opposite of sinister. And he’s terrifying.

Kylo Ren is the First Order in microcosm. Powerful? Yes. Experienced? No. Look back at A New Hope. Every leader in the Empire is easily 40+. You’ve got a command structure built out of people who have been doing the job a long, long time. It’s why Vader chokes one of them to death: he’s made a major mistake that could conceivably cost the Empire a victory (and, in the tradition of the Dambusters, it does).

Meanwhile, the First Order is the Empire after that entire command structure gets wiped out. Everyone (save for Snoke) is so very young, and it shows. Hux has to stand screaming his guts out, because he doesn’t know how else to lead. He can’t delegate because he barely even trusts his equal, let alone his lieutenants. Phasma has to put her troops into reprogramming – she doesn’t seem surprised that Finn needs a top up – because for all the screaming rallies they have to stand through, the horror of actual war is breaking them. And Kylo Ren is far, far out of his depth. From the moment Poe Dameron looks him square in the mask and asks “so who talks first?” right up to the very end where he desperately tries to convince Rey that she needs his training and she responds by plucking it straight out of his head, he can feel his grip on the world slipping. Where he was once sure-footed, he fumbles. He throws tantrums that undermine him in front of his own troops. When Hux clipes him in to Snoke for letting the plans escape, we can see the pure playground villainy that swirls beneath the surface of the First Order. Hux kicks him when he should support him, and it just makes Ren even more aware of how vulnerable he is.

When he take his mask off – and oh, the message of that mask: look how heavy my mask is! LOOK AT ME! HOW STRONG I AM! – he can’t meet Rey’s gaze. He looks uncomfortable, he stumbles on his words. He’s uneasy, and that frightens him. And in the sudden awareness of his own fragility, he drives himself to act. To do the very worst thing he can think of, because that will show them he means business. 

And frankly I find that terrifying. It would be easy to have a giant, dark pillar of death that stands as a banner of pure evil. Instead, we get a young man, shoulders hunched as though to shield himself from the world, punching himself in the gut to psych himself up, so desperate for recognition that he casts himself into the abyss. Set against a backdrop of escapist fantasy, The Force Awakens gives us a villain who is all too real.

 

 

*NB: if you spent the first half of 2015 bitching about how the crossguard lightsaber was a travesty and you want to now tell everyone about your love for Star Wars? PLEASE GET IN THE SEA. THE SEA IS WAITING FOR YOU. TOOT TOOT, THIS TRAIN IS HEADED FOR THE SEA. ALL ABOARD.

The end of a long year

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So that is almost the end of 2015. To be frank, it’s been an odd and a slightly disappointing year. We like to imagine that this is going to be the year that things happen, that the turning point is just ahead, but sometimes it’s just…a year. I’ve spent a great deal of it in limbo, stuck somewhere between the UK and Sweden, not really sure how things were going to work out. So far, it seems to have worked out okay, as these things do. We’ll just keep on plugging away at it until we sort the formula out.

I’ve had the as-new kidney almost a year and a half now, with no issues. As long as I don’t do anything stupid, it should continue merrily on that course for some time to come.

I’ve been pretty vocal about Kingdom’s Fall on Wattpad. Sorry if you got sick of it, but it seemed to do the trick. Almost 115k reads the last time I checked, and it got up to #4? in the overall charts. Considering the venue, I think it did really, really well. I’m not exactly certain what to do with it next. I’ve still got the outlines for the sequels sitting, although considering Wattpad is free I’m not sure I’m ready to commit to 300,000+ words of fiction that would basically be “exposure” and not much else. I’m glad I did it, though. I didn’t have much going on with the traditional publishing aspect of things, and only very late in the year broke the drought that my back and forth life seemed to impose on my writing and actually getting anything out there. The Pseudopod story went splendidly and I’ve got a story in the latest Fox Pockets book, Things in the Dark.

Re: the header image, I got to go and see Star Wars yesterday, which was pretty much exactly what I hoped it would be. It was really fun and I am really looking forward to the next few years of movies and adventures in the Star Wars Universe. There’s a moment in Return of the Jedi that is Lucas on his best day: when Luke refuses the Emperor and Palpatine replies, “so be it, Jedi.” It’s a perfectly tuned piece of delivery. A huge amount – the movie, the trilogy – turns on four words because even if the Rebel fleet is destroyed and Vader kills his own son it means nothing because Luke has *won*. In a Universe where to have power is to be constantly nagged by doubt and the fear that it will consume you, he masters himself. The Force Awakens has that same spirit of storytelling behind it, giving talented actors (young and old) big moments to deal with and trusting them to manage it without words, without overselling it. I didn’t cry, but it was a damn close thing. If you’re not sure about it? Let go of your feelings. Go see it.

So I’m looking forward to 2016. I’ve got a book in progress, lots of work to be getting on with, a flat to finish furnishing, and a list of museums and books the length of my arm. It might not be a turning point, but it’s a step on the road.

Jessica Jones

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I finished watching Jessica Jones roughly a week after it came out on Netflix. I kind of enjoy the binge-watch that Netflix’s release schedule (as in: dump it all on at the same time) permits, mostly because they don’t put too much up for one season. 13 episodes was about my limit really, across 4 days. Any more than that and I start to get stressed out about not getting other things done but also really wanting to know what happens…which is why I don’t go back and watch tv shows that I have missed and now have 6 seasons to plough through because the stress would probably split me in half.

And by that I mean I’d just watch it all and do no marking.

So, uh, spoiler free review, I guess? Or more really just random thoughts about it.

I really liked Jessica Jones. That is to say, I found it compelling and well worth the time spent watching it. It was not a comfortable watch. It was challenging, and more than once I found myself having to press pause and think about my own reactions. And that more than anything else makes me want to recommend it as a show.

It’s not a perfect show – there are more than a few points where the curves of telling a superhero story and telling a story about surviving abuse do not sit on a shared tangent – but in the broad context of the MCU and their spinoffs it is making a *really good effort* to give rape and abuse the serious treatment they deserve. They do a really good job of creating one of the most terrifying (and powerful) baddies on screen without requiring that he want to rule/blow up the Universe, and then putting him in situations where you begin to feel…if not sympathy, then pity, at the very least…and then confront you with how sorely misplaced your pity has been. I loved the show for the wringer that it put me through.

Other things:

Krysten Ritter does good work with a really tough part. The mask of deadpan misanthropy that shows just enough of the damage behind it? *Patrick Stewart saying “ACTING” GIF here, please*

Mike Colter’s ridiculously perfect face and torso is a joy.

David Tennant turning on the charm where almost ever other actor in the world would have gone full ham.

It’s *almost* 50/50 women:men on the writing team (5/11, damn you Edward Ricourt and your 1 ep credit)!

Manuel Billeter’s cinematography. Shot by shot, the series is like a class in how to create tension through POV and palette. Flashes of purple, shots that create ambiguity about who Killgrave has (or might have) control of? YES. Looking forward to seeing what they do with the Luke Cage series now. Really looking forward to it.

 

Iron Man 3, or Guy Pearce Just Needs A Hug.

So, before we get cracking I’ll direct you now to Robert Berg’s review of Iron Man 3 which is a) great, b) touches on most of the points I wanted to cover (essentially making most of what I was going to write redundant), and c) isn’t technically spoiler free but is sufficiently subtle about it that you’d have to be wound up really tight to feel as if it spoils the movie for you.

I, dear reader, suck at dancing around spoilers so I’ll just put the tl;dr version here. Go see Iron Man 3. It is mostly excellent. Enjoyable and in some respects (but not others) sufficiently challenging to rise above the base level of popcorn-munching explosion porn that is the de facto standard (*cough* Michael Bay *cough*). A lot of effort has gone into it, and there are a lot of lovely little moments for the keen-eyed that you can list to your other half on the way to the car.

I repeat: spoiler alert.

So. Iron Man 3. It gets a lot of things right, and first among them is Tony Stark. What could easily have been a one-note character (he is snarky and rich, lol!) is written and performed with depth and nuance. Underneath the layers of acerbic, exasperated curtness, Tony is all heart, and it is a credit to the film and RDJ that this is shown not as an epiphany, but as something that shows through the cracks all the way through.

And those cracks aren’t just in his armour. There’s a reason Tony leaves himself out of the roll call when he faces Loki in the Avengers, and it’s not simple cinematic bravado. He feels small – he feels weak – and at the beginning of Iron Man 3 he’s not trying to come to terms with this: he’s trying to beat it. The armour is up to Mark 42 (and there are some great cameos by other variants during the film) but even more than that he is training. Stark has never been out of shape but he’s visibly broader, more muscular, and we see him both working out, but also feinting attacks at a Wing Chun dummy. Tony’s first response to his imagined inadequacy is to defeat it, and the effort is destroying him.

Needless to say, things get worse before they get better, but throughout it Tony doesn’t really change – it’s more that he remembers there is value in the qualities he has. Eternally crushed by the shadow of his own doubt, Iron Man 3 is about how he learns to come out from under all that weight.

Where the movie falters, though, is in the challenge he faces.

There’s a bit in Night at the Museum 2 where Kahmunrah (Hank Azaria) meets Darth Vader:

This is how I feel about the antagonists in Iron Man 3. They’re just too busy, and by the end of the movie you’re left wondering what the hell they actually ever wanted. There are four or five really great villain concepts in there, but rather than just pick one and really going for it, they have them ALL and it starts to feel like a bit of a mess. The Extremis treatment starts off quite scary – the idea of a literally unkillable soldier (but they are really, really hard to make and keep stable – although there are other applications for the failures) is terrifying, but then it gets ruined by that not being enough.

Unkillable with impossible strength and agility? Okay. Right. Even more than simply being unstoppable, the Extremis soldier is one-on-one capable of immediately overcoming any normal human foe and can fight an Iron Man suit. That’s fine.

Wait, no. There’s more. They can create human torch levels of heat. And spit fire.

Oh, and there’s a fucking army of them.

I can appreciate the desire for a big multi-player set piece, but I switched off for five minutes while the battle played out. The Extremis soldiers had stopped being scary and were just background pyrotechnics. Instead of being thrilled I sat there feeling the same kind of awkwardness I felt while watching the last episode of Sherlock – how could the conspiracy operate with so many people involved? Moriarity manipulates/bribes/threatens a LOT of people and the idea that in an age of widespread instant communication not one would give the game away beggars belief. Likewise with the AIM thinktank – how are they able to maintain such an absolute blanket of secrecy?

Given that there are several shots in the film of henchmen doubting their purpose – including one of the chief henchdude looking very uncomfortable when the time comes to attack Air Force One – I can’t help but suspect this was something that they toyed with during shooting, but it never made it out the door. In fact, there are several scenes and ideas that are left to dangle endlessly unfulfilled – most wisely, perhaps, the scene where Tony Stark buys fertiliser from a hardware store and makes a set of kitchen table bombs, clear glass jars filled with Hollywood’s favourite visual device, the binary explosive.

Anyway. Scrappy editing and baddies that become dramatically less threatening by the endgame aside, Iron Man 3 is a good movie, and worth going to see.

Reign of Fire

An edited version of this rant review appeared on the very lovely Geraldine Clark Hellery’s blog during the build-up to the Nun & Dragon release (*cough* still available! still has a story by me in! *cough*). I thought since Gerard Butler popped up in a post the other day, I’d do the full version on here now that a suitable period of time has passed.

Fair Warning – I do go on a bit about a movie that appeared in 2002 and promptly sank like a fucking rock.

So. On with the show. What’s the deal with Reign of Fire? Is it really a bad movie, or is it a sadly underrated gem?

Awkwardly enough, the truth lies somewhere in between. Things were never going to go well for it. Prior to its release the marketing team made some terrible mistakes in promoting the film, the most damaging being the creation of a poster that made the apparent promise of a helicopter versus dragon dogfight.

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There *is* a helicopter in the movie – an Agusta A109 – and I count eight distinctive silhouettes of fully-armed Apaches in the poster. Failure to deliver is the worst crime that we can weigh against Reign of Fire, and it’s not even the movie’s fault.

Poor marketing isn’t the end of the world, but a myriad of smaller flaws combined to drive nail after nail into the coffin of what could have been the definitive dragon/apocalypse film.

The characterisation is weak.

The men are caricatures, with Christian Bale as Quinn, who we meet as an adult (following his VO narration of the dragonocalypse) digging away at the foundations of a castle. Contractual obligations being what they are, he has his shirt off and is working away with a muscular vigour that seems somewhat at odds with the idea that the last of humanity is scratching at the very limits of survival.

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“Bad news. We’re out of chocolate protein shakes. Only got cherry and hazelnut left. War is Hell.”

Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey), summoned into the tale by the Plot Gods, is even worse: a grimy, sweat-soaked Techno Viking who demonstrates his tenuous grip on what sanity he has left by leaning forward a lot and fixing people with his boggle-eyed stare.

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Whatever you say about Denton van Zan, you’ve got to respect a man who is happy to Wil. E. Coyote himself off a building. Yes, that’s a verb now.

The sole exception is Creedy, played by Gerard Butler, who serves as Jiminy Cricket to Bale’s Pinnochio, a lone voice of (admittedly sarcastic) reason in a world given over to ridiculous idealogical clashes.

The women, by comparison, are non-existent. Alice Krige gets maybe a minute of screen time, including a memorably brilliant establishing shot of her flagrantly ignoring all forms of workplace safety by using a carbon dioxide fire extinguisher underground to flash-chill a can of beer. Added to the fact that her twelve year old son can get on-site and down the work lift with only the offer of a cigarette by way of challenge, the appearance of a dragon can be perhaps read as less a sign of the end times and more a fast-track past the red tape of an industrial tribunal.

Izabella Scorupco appears later as Alex: helicopter pilot, inexplicable Van Zan devotee, and token love interest. What little dialogue she gets is mostly spent in defence of one man, or expressing sympathy for the other. I guess we’re meant to be happy that she gets to fly the helicopter?

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“Whee! This is symbolic of my agency! Did you know I’m also a successful singer?”

What it gets right, though, is the thing that should have been promised in the marketing – a post apocalyptic vision where people are just trying their absolute best to cope and survive. In the face of the setup – dragons burninating everything until there’s nothing left to burninate – Quinn has taken the course of action that makes the most sense. He’s gathered as many people as he can, taken them to the most remote and defensible point he can safely reach, and he has started digging. Ultimately, he’s hoping that the dragons will run out of food and the matriarch will go back into hibernation before he does. The fact that she will eventually return is immaterial – the scale of her sleep/wake cycle is so vast that it is – on the timeline of the thirty or so families he’s trying to protect – essentially meaningless.

It’s a great concept, and it’s a shame that more time isn’t spent on it. The balance of people to food and the constant risk and consequences of exposure are touched on briefly in a very satisfying and surprisingly well-handled way. The group that disobey Quinn aren’t rebels – they’re just hungry. As much as they let the collective down, he cannot bring himself to punish them because he understands their desperation. The atmosphere and character of the community shines when it is shown as being just that – a community. By far the most memorable moment is seeing Bale and Butler act out the climax of The Empire Strikes Back to an audience of wide-eyed toddlers (bonus marks for Butler for his reassuring “it’s okay, I’ve still got my hand” wave) and it’s a genuine shame that we don’t see more of it.

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Instead, we are passed over to a traditional Hollywood arc for the final third. Creedy is dispatched in an act of sacrifice that prevents him from picking holes in anything that follows, and Quinn throws every belief he has out the window before flying down to London to fight the dragon.

There’s a saying that goes, no-one ever sets out to make a bad movie, and yet bad movies still get made. In hindsight, it’s easy to see where Reign of Fire went badly wrong. It’s also easy to see where it went right, and could have gone much better. A little less man-versus-dragon and a little more of the human side of things and it could have become a classic.

Don’t believe me? Look at 28 Days Later, which also came out in 2002.

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Putting aside the incredibly weak setup (even the most ardent of animal liberators would know that opening a cage to an animal that’s been sorely abused, sticking your face in and smiling at it is a bad idea), it is a brilliant movie about how people try to cope with the end of the world. Yes, there are zombies, but the zombies are not the main event. It’s how everyone else reacts that drives the story forward, and it’s that difference that makes 28 Days Later the classic, and Reign of Fire the almost-ran.

Things what I have been talking about.

It occurs to me that I have recommended a few things to people in passing, but have completely failed to follow up with details of them. Far too often when recommendations come the other way, I just forget about them, or forget some pertinent detail that would make the book or the movie or the song easy to find. So, for anyone who I recommended these things to, this is your handy aide memoire. For anyone I didn’t, check these things out! They are awesome.

Real Genius

There is a reason I do not like The Big Bang Theory. It feels very much like laughing at smart people instead of laughing with. “Ha! Look at Sheldon! He knows so much about flags and yet exhibits tendencies that border on sociopathy!” Hilarious.

Real Genius is the solution to the Big Bang Theory problem. It’s an entertaining, funny, and clever movie that depicts very, very smart people as actual human beings. Val Kilmer’s Chris Knight is handsome, smug, irreverent, ridiculously brainy and never suffers for any of it. Knight and the idealistic undergraduate Mitch are caught in the trap of closed-door research: they are working in the lab without ever thinking about the world beyond it. That they are building military tech is clear to the viewer from the get-go. In a world where faceless lab rats tinker away on death rays in every movie and comic book going, Real Genius makes the point that the people building the next generation of weapons can be blinkered by their own idealism – and broken by the moral weight.

It’s such a good film, and if the crappy trailer doesn’t get you excited, then how about this: the character Jordan in the film was cited as the inspiration for Gadget Hackwrench. That, my friends, is awesome.

First and the Last

The war memoir of World War II German ace Adolf Galland keeps coming up. I reviewed it over on Floor to Ceiling Books a while back and it is still worth hunting out. The brutal clash between the idealistic domain of a pilot who believes that he and his kind represent the last vestige of true chivalry and the realities of a modern war machine is a stunning and absorbing read.

I would put a purchase link at the top but it’s out of print and the only copy I could see from a brief search was $41. With a little digging I’m sure you can find it much cheaper than that.

BONUS SIDE MISSION: If you can get your hands on A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939-1940 by William Trotter, that is absolutely worth reading as well. The Talvisota was my inspiration for the Halloween short story, In the Wolf’s Glen and – again – it is an absorbing and fascinating read into one of the lesser-known conflicts of WWII.

The Brothers Lionheart

The Brothers Lionheart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Astrid Lindgren is probably most well-known as the creator of Pippi Longstocking. The Brothers Lionheart, however, was one of her most controversial books. Published in 1973, it is the story of Karl and Jonatan, two brothers. Karl is sick – sick enough that he may soon die – and his brother tells him not to worry, because when you die you go to Nangijala, a place where you can have adventures from morning until evening, and even through the night; because Nangijala is where stories come from.

It’s one of those books that you try to describe and fail, because really it’s about everything. It deals with life and death in the most part and in the process goes to some dark places. It’s a stunning example of how deep and affecting children’s writing can be.

It was made into a movie in the late 70’s, but is apparently being remade by Tomas Alfredson. I look forward to seeing it.

 

I end up saving the world, just to save you.

So, there have been a couple of movies that haven’t really worked for me of late.

The first is Gantz, a live-action adaptation of the manga (and anime) of the same name.

The trailer, and in some respects the premise, are misleading. At the point of what would be their deaths, people are summoned into the presence of a black orb known as Gantz. It offers them the use of custom-made battle suits that vastly improve their speed and strength, and weapons, and orders them to hunt and kill various targets – alien invaders, as it calls them.

What you expect from that is not what you get. For a start, Gantz is indiscriminate in its summoning. Young, old, cowardly, stupid – all are summoned and told to fight, with little time and no explanation forthcoming from the orb. Here are the tools, it seems to say. If you need instructions, then you are beyond my help.

The invaders, too, are not as expected. All are alien, certainly, and all are deadly when threatened, but before each confrontation they are seen engaging in mundane acts, trying to blend in. One is burdened with his weekly shop; one is simply walking along listening to music on his ghetto blaster. One is listed by Gantz as “likes peace and quiet”, and doesn’t even bother moving until something explodes right next to him. The motive in killing them is unclear – are they really trying to take over, or are they just trying to keep their heads down and live a normal life? Gantz offers no choice to the indecisive, on either side.

What happens as a result is not an action movie, but is instead an examination of what happens when ordinary people are confronted with violent situations. They freeze up, act irrationally, fight amongst themselves, are repeatedly and gorily killed, and – worst of all – exploit one another in an attempt to survive. Even when they do resolve to team up and fight for one another’s sake, their sheer inexperience plays against them and no amount of hyper-tech can save their lives. Only the very few have a killer instinct, and they struggle to keep themselves and others alive. It’s hard to watch – dull at times – and the best description I can give of it is that it is a two-hour long episode of Power Rangers, where teamwork, bravery, and friendship have been replaced by grief, guilt, and fear.

I was far harder on it while watching it, primarily because I was expecting action and I got none, but if you’re interested in a story that answers the question “What would you do if aliens invaded and you had to fight?” with the brutally honest answer “Shit yourself and die.

Continue reading “I end up saving the world, just to save you.”

The Hunger Games

This post refers to the film version of The Hunger Games. From the official site:

Every year in the ruins of what was once North America, the evil Capitol of the nation of Panem forces each of its twelve districts to send a teenage boy and girl to compete in the Hunger Games.  A twisted punishment for a past uprising and an ongoing government intimidation tactic, The Hunger Games are a nationally televised event in which “Tributes” must fight with one another until one survivor remains.

Pitted against highly-trained Tributes who have prepared for these Games their entire lives, Katniss is forced to rely upon her sharp instincts as well as the mentorship of drunken former victor Haymitch Abernathy.  If she’s ever to return home to District 12, Katniss must make impossible choices in the arena that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

The question in my mind going into the movie was, “how do you shoot a book like the Hunger Games?” First person isn’t always a problem – Twilight survived the transfer from book to screen after all* – but for a large part of the Hunger Games Katniss is either alone in the Game itself, or alone on the page as she analyses her situation. Katniss is quite the chatty Cathy inside her own head, but stoic and awkward to the outside world. Without that access, how does the viewer connect with the character?

The answer, it seems, is to do two things: firstly, hire an excellent actress for the part. Secondly, shoot the entire thing around her, at the cost of everything else. For the most part, it works brilliantly. The Hunger Games is a very good movie that takes a well-worn premise and turns it into an at-times powerfully emotive viewing experience. It is not without faults, but they are miniscule enough compared to the film’s successes that they are easily forgiven.

Jennifer Lawrence, as I say, is excellent in the role of Katniss. She is every bit as stoic and occasionally confrontational as the character demands, but at the same time is given room to show us a very afraid and very desperate young woman. The scene between her and Cinna prior to her entrance at the Games themselves has very few lines and little action, and yet is one of the most penetrating insights into Katniss’s character. Director Gary Ross gives her a lot of help on the way, particularly in the whirlwind of pre-Games training and orientation, where images flash and judder across the screen, and sounds fade in and out to mirror Katniss’s confusion at the riot of life as a tribute.

Once in the Games themselves, it becomes less a game of her versus the other tributes and more of her versus the Games themselves. It’s an important distinction, and one that works to the overall advantage of the film because we are forced away from sympathising towards the other characters, many of whom die in the first few minutes of the Games themselves. Certainly the “fox-face” redhead would be an alarming competitor for the audience’s sympathies if we had spent any more time on her – instead she’s left long enough be almost forgotten, only reappearing to resolve a standoff situation that looks set to drag on forever and then finally to be tied up as a loose end all of her own.

Instead, we flick back and forth between the Capitol control room and Katniss, with occasional reaction shots from the Districts outside, to show that she – and the other tributes – are being manipulated from above, and that her actions are in defiance of the puppeteers, not the other puppets. There is a great moment in the cave between Peeta and Katniss where – just for a moment – she looks up at the camera and out of the screen. It’s nothing more than a glance, but it’s enough to threaten the integrity of the in-world fourth wall and lends solid credibility to President Snow’s seething veneer of civility at the end. He – like the viewer – knows she is playing the system.

Josh Hutcherson, by comparison, comes off a lot weaker than Lawrence. Part of it is due to his character being effectively rail roaded off-screen to make more room for Katniss, but some of the blame has to ride on his own shoulders. His one great opportunity to really deliver a powerful, sympathetic moment – his half-delirious remorse for not bringing bread to her all those years ago – comes off stilted and wooden. Any chance he might have had to save the fumble with a “if we don’t get through this” speech is cut off with by a sharp shush from Katniss.

Even Rue, played by the unbearably cute Amandla Stenberg, doesn’t get to muscle in on audience share. Instead, her death becomes a foreshadowing device for the rebellious undercurrent that will flavour the rest of the film.

But like I say, these things can be forgiven. There is a lot to get through in the running time, and the story has an agenda to make Katniss believable as the motivation that drives a world to a second uprising. The ripples of her actions spread out from the arena into the world beyond, and we are led into the sequel by another very powerful scene that is again more about staging than dialogue or action: the inimitable angular Wes Bentley (sporting the most awesome beard ever, ever as Gamesmaker Seneca Crane) being led into a room to face the consequence of what has been simultaneously his best and worst Hunger Games.

With an amazing take on its opening weekend, I can’t imagine there being any problems with the summer schedule for Catching Fire maintaining its green light. I’m quite looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

 

 

*and thanks to some tongue-in-cheek cinematography, did quite well out of the move

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

Before I start, I want to mention one thing.  I think this film is almost as bad as Charlie’s Angels was for really blatant product placement.  It’s really quite distracting, it’s so badly done.  I appreciate the costs of a modern film make it almost necessary but come on.

Anyway.

Normally, the changeover from a numbered sequel to a genre-specific title signals a disavowal of the previous instalments in a series.  For Mission: Impossible, this would seem like the obvious route to take.  After the original outing, the series took a sharp downward turn with the second instalment – what the dire tie-in pseudo-metal soundtrack and ridiculous continuity didn’t manage to kill stone dead, the dust-dry chemistry and writing finished off – and the third suffered as a result.  I don’t doubt it made a reasonable return – here we are after all with number four in our laps, writhing away for all it’s worth –  but I doubt many can actually remember the plot of MI:III.

So, it was a bit of surprise that Ghost Protocol leans heavily on the back of MI:III, with Ethan all moody and stoic, and everyone else treading on eggshells around him over the fact that he’s no longer with his wife.  In fact, it ends up the movie’s greatest flaw.  Because the third instalment was so ethereal, there’s no impact to the various revelations about Julia (his wife), and Ethan’s responses to that.  The coda at the end especially falls flat, an oddly detached few minutes of dialogue and apparently significant cameo action that floats free of the rest of the film, untethered and unconnected.

Even without this major, major issue hampering the story, the rest of it feels too anachronistic to actually make sense.  The point of impetus – a team of US black ops specialists is disavowed in a brutal and public fashion is fair enough, but it’s quite a generic jumping-off point.  RED did much the same, with much better results, and the inclusion of a GI: Joe – Retaliation trailer before the film did nothing to help matters.  What follows after, though, is just so irrelevant that it almost feels like a joke.

Rogue nuclear strategist wants to set off a Global Nuclear conflict that will “touch the lives of every human being on the planet” by firing a single nuclear missile from a USS- I mean, uh, Sovi-, ummm wait, Russian submarine?  It’s like Reagan never had a second term and the INF never happened.  If that wasn’t mind-boggling enough, a Serbian hit squad – plucked from the early 90’s presumably – is muddled into things to try and pad out the obvious lack of content.

It’s like the writers aren’t even trying.  There’s the usual mentions of terrorism, and a vague threat about how the US will pin a crime on Hunt’s head, but there isn’t a lot of tension to derive from that.  The only person actually chasing the IMF agents is a Russian from some undisclosed law enforcement agency – since there’s no KGB now, it’s apparently left to the viewer’s imagination to actually come up with a name or a motivation for the pursuer – and he is so lacking in manpower and resource that his few appearances do little to add anything approaching tension.

Even disavowed, the IMF seems to have infinite reach and resources, ignores all boundaries and jurisdictions, and has zero accountability.  They live in a magical fairy land where the international reputation of the US isn’t being ceaselessly eroded by the kind of black-bag hijinks the agents get up to.  The mission dialogue at the very end of the movie is worthy of a special mention, as the cool, robotic voice informs Ethan that persons unknown are hacking into US unmanned drones – presumably the tip-off was a  sudden drop in the number of awkward questions Hilary Clinton had to ignore about civilian deaths in Pakistan?

So, yeah.  Between the blithe assumption that the viewing audience has no greater grasp of world affairs other than the cast-off historical assumption that the Red Menace is still lurking out there somewhere and a necessary reliance on the events of a largely forgettable precursor, Mission: Impossible isn’t worth the cinema queue.

What *is* the plural of Walrus?

This was a conversation I found myself having Friday afternoon after being asked to draw a graph of my week on a sheet of paper, days being the independent variable (time-limited) along the x-axis and my mood being dependent, indicated on the y-axis. Interestingly, on being asked that question, I had to instantly go back and amend my graph because in all honesty it was the best thing that had happened to me all week.

We agreed that “walruses” is boring and shame was poured on one contributor’s head for adding a superfluous apostrophe to make it “walruse’s” on the whiteboard (also prompting the question, “what’s a walruse and what stuff would it possess?“).

Walrice didn’t survive the screening process but walri? That felt closer to the mark.

What if we added an extra vowel? What if we doubled that shit right up?

Walrii. yes, my friends, that feels so much more comfortable on the tongue.

Being Scottish, I staunchly defended the possibility of an ancient, Caledonian flavour – hundreds of walrae, their sleek, heavy-set bodies crowding the rocky shores – but it was summarily rejected by the harsh, Southern tones of my English companions.
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