Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Who's driving this thing?!

I love that moment when you are on the edge of your seat, totally engrossed in an action packed story. You have no idea what is going to happen next.How is the hero going to get out of this impossible situation?

... And the only thing you can do is keep typing to find out.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

An afternoon with Sergio

I've mentioned a lot on Facebook lately that Sergio Leone's The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly is one of my favourite films of all time. It is certainly my favourite Western. I ticked an item off the Bucket List today, I saw this film on the big screen. What impressed me most was the audience, the place was packed. A range of ages too. Younger and older generations were equally represented. We saw the extended version, which has most of the extra footage in it. This was only missing one minor scene and the movie ran to well over 2 hours.

The Wikipedia entry for this film reveals a lot of interesting trivia.

The audience was great, they laughed in delight at the moments they should have laughed in delight at, they oohed and aahed at the right moments too. Being in The Embassy theatre, owned by Sir Peter Jackson and site of the premiere's of the Lord Of The Rings movies and The Hobbit in November, made this a special treat.  Really pleased I saw this movie, and I'll be keeping an eye out for future retro-showings of other great movies (they did the full Back To The Future trilogy the other week!)

Friday, June 08, 2012

My Inner Teenage Girl Is Screaming

My inner teenage girl is screaming. Not my usual inner teenage girl screaming because she has just awoken, tied up in my basement next to my knife collection. No this is my other inner teenage girl. The one who read and actually enjoyed Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games.

I found myself pawing at the Kindle app on  my phone, trying to turn non-existent virtual pages. What do you mean it ends there? It can't end there!! What about Gale? What about Peeta? What happens next!? What will Katniss do???!!!

I feel like I have been infected with some insidious disease. A slow creeping malediction has cursed me. I picked the book at random from the 2500 titles on my Kindle app and found the use of present-tense less irritating than I thought I would after a few pages.

By the time I was two chapters into it I couldn't put it down. This is so clearly written for young teenage girls, I kept on thinking if anyone finds out I'm reading this I'm never going to be able to show my face at any masculine venue ever again. My inner teen-age girl agrees. Except she says "evah" and "ZOMG! I'd just die if anyone found out!"

Writing a blog post about it is probably not the best course of manly reputation saving action then.

But I need to write about it. I need to analyse why this book gripped me so much. Mostly I think I need to justify my own secret delight in the story and perhaps accept that I have a girl teeny-bopper in my mental wardrobe of voices in my head.

I don't know if this is standard YA teen fiction. I haven't read any Twilight.  I do read a lot of the Reasoning With Vampires blog. Which analyses just how god-awful Stephanie Meyer's writing is, and how her overly contrived story is probably making an entire generation of girls stupider. Even my inner teen-age girl is making gagging noises.

The key thing for me about Collins' book is that Katniss is the everygirl. She doesn't think she is pretty, or smart, or desirable. She is in a desperate situation and is adorably immature about boys and adult relationships. Of course she is smart, and pretty and desirable and she's also a damned good provider for her family. Her casual relationship with Gale is sweet. It's nice to see teenagers not focused on sex and true love and shit. Of course that they aren't thinking about sex all the time is what reminds me that this is a work of fiction.

Katniss (as we all know) takes the place of her younger sister Prim as the tribute for the Hunger Games. An annual facist celebration of victory over the rebellious and a chance to watch some young un's engage in some good old fashioned orienteering, wilderness survival and all the good Scouts outdoorsy activities promoted in books like Enid Blyton's Five series. The only difference is that while there are plenty of lashings (threatened at least) and other punishments are handed out like licks from Timmy there sure as hell isn't any gingerbeer.

What we do have is a grim and bloody headcount. People die in this book. They die badly and often. It's not just in the arena, that vast semi-VR wilderness where the tributes hunt each other to death. Death is a constant companion in Katniss' life outside the arena. She lives close to starvation. People die in the coal mines. People die of injury and and disease and malnutrition. She comments that the elderly are admired - for they have endured so much longer than anyone normally does.

This story is action packed. Katniss has great skills, the famous archery talent (which has of course lead to a spike in interest in the sport for kids). But hey the samet thing happened with the Lord of the Rings trilogy was released. It's good to get kids interested in an outdoor sport.

The action and tension are grim. The romance is a sub-plot and is meant to be another way of winning the games by guile rather than strength. Of course we have lots of conflict to muddy this but over all Collin's keeps it very safe by restricting it to kissing and fully clothed sleeping bag sharing cos it's damned cold. If I had a 14 year old daughter, I'd let her go camping alone with Peeta. I might not even feel it necessary to stab him in the thigh first.

Collin's doesn't bother with silly details like how does stuff happen. She has deus-ex-machina coming out of her cūlus. But that's okay. We don't care that things drop out of the sky, or that the entire environment can be manipulated in anyway shape or form. The focus is on the characters. The basic hunt and the way the experience changes Katniss. That's the heart of the story. She's a really great character.

The pretty dresses, the kissing and the rest of the story aren't bad either.

Prometheus – The Review Warning! Does contain SPOILERS!

By all accounts (particularly the Making Of Blade Runner documentary) Ridley Scott is a real prick to work with. He is a pedantic perfectionist who works people to their limit and accepts no compromise.  As an audience we see the ultimate illusion created by this true visionary. Alien was the finest science fiction film since 2001: A Space Odyssey and by returning to the Universe that is truly his alone, Scott has created a new masterpiece with Prometheus.
From the mind-bending opening scene which screamed, “This film is unlike anything you have seen before in the Aliens Universe” to the colour motif (that has been a key element of all 4 previous Alien films) Prometheus is a masterwork of film making.
Yes it is an Alien prequel. But it is so much more. This is a film with so many layers. It speaks to those of a spiritual bent and to the cynical atheist like myself equally. It engenders a sense of true wonder at the Universe and its infinite possibilities.

At another level the film confirms two facts.
1.       Noomi Rapace is a fantastic actor and a worthy successor to Sigourney Weaver.
2.       Charlize Theron has the finest arse in Christiandom.

The discovery of the final starmap and the journey to LV-223 were mercifully brief,  and the scene with the briefing was copied directly from Alien Vs Predator. Guy Pearce playing the old man was an odd choice, surely they could have just got an old actor? It stood out in his speech that while David was “The son he never had” clearly Vickers was his daughter.
David was a masterpiece of character and acting. Evesdropping on the sleeper’s dreams and watching Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia and styling himself in the same way was fantastic. Fassbender never dropped out of character. Even when he was rescuing Shaw and Holloway during the storm and they were flailing around and being blown by the wind – he was ramrod straight. He moved like a dancer and you never stopped being aware that he was in fact an artificial.
The industrial strength living conditions and grim realities of space-travel were again present. People puking after waking up from coldsleep, the body and mind being in shock.

The initial exploration of LV-223 which is of course NOT the same planet that Ripley and the Nostromo crew landed on (LV-426) heightened that sense of colour motif. The use of white in this film (representing purity, sterility and in some cultures, death) was subtle and profound (Alien of course had green/black, Aliens was electric blue, Alien 3 was red/orange and Alien4 was copper/rust).
The links to Alien are detailed and exact. The action unfolds in a fascinating way. The opening scene with the Engineer (or Space Jockey) sacrificing himself to create all life on earth was a totally different spin on things. This alternate use of the purification weapons of mass destruction (the goo that evolves into Aliens through successive generations when exposed to host genetic material) was a profound statement about technology.

Charlize Theron and Noomi Rapace carried this film, Michael Fossbender stole every scene he was in and Idris Alba was just rough enough to get Damaris’ heart racing.

The rest were there solely to be killed and ramp up the action. The death of Fifield and Millburn were almost darkly humorous.

“Get it off me!”
“I’m not touching that!”

The unnamed crew and Ford the Irish medic were just there to be killed. The use of flamethrowers in decontamination spoke to me a lot about our primordial fears of the unknown. If we don’t understand it, we kill it. Kill it with fire!

Of course David was bound by his programming and the lunatic egomania of Weyland. A touching moment was when Shaw asked what he would do when Weyland died, and David said he would finally be free.

The Engineers created the Aliens. Clearly they were a programmed evolution through successive generations when combined with suitable biological genetic material. We saw this in Alien3 when the initial host was a dog – so the alien had a different shape to it. The multi-generational aspects of their evolution were fascinating to watch, Worms to big worms, to squid like creature to giant face-hugger to Engineer based Alien.

I did rage a bit against the final scene – surely the Engineer should have been back on his crashed ship and had the alien burst out of his chest. But this was NOT LV-426 so that scene happened on a different world. Another weapons outbreak… another disaster from those who thought they had the power over life and death. Once I clicked to that it made a lot more sense.

The most powerful moment in the film for me came when Shaw declared she was not going home. I literally gasped. Of course! You have access to that kind of technology, why go back? She chose to believe and that drove her onwards into the unknown which is really the ultimate purpose of faith.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Fuck You Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, you bastard. You were supposed to live forever. You alone would keep writing long after the rest of us were mouldering bones and withered flesh. You were the shining star. The celestial furnace of creativity that could never be extinguished. You were the one who lit the way for so many genres and other great writers. You defined and re-defined the many genres of Speculative Fiction. You broke through literary market barriers like a rioting mob.

You will always be the Shakespeare of the 20th Century science-fiction writers. Like Shakespeare your ideas ranged from the quirky to the inspirational. You had the same English words as the rest of us, but what you did with them. The way you linked them together. You wrote poetic prose. I have on occasion stopped and re-read a single line of yours and marvelled at how perfect, how utterly perfect your command of words really was.
The characters you created stepped off the page and said, “This is my life story.” Every one so believable and utterly unforgettable. So today Mr Bradbury I will remember you and will read your immortal stories again.

I know we will teach our grandchildren to love fiction and the power of imagination. “Look!” we will say. “There was once a man, a great man. He made the world a better place by writing stories that were unlike any other. He is gone but the stories remain. Read them and know him as we knew him.”

You were the wild and childlike prophet of a thousand possible futures. You lived and lived and lived. And now you are dead.

There will never be another human being like you and there will never be another story by you. So fuck you Ray Bradbury.

“Recreate the world in your own image and make it better for your having been here.”
- Ray Bradbury, speech at Brown University (1995)