Sick Girl Movie Reviews: Man of Steel, Now You See Me, Magic Mike, Frozen

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I’ve been sick a lot this year, which is a fun result of having an autoimmune disorder. Sometimes I catch up on my reading; sometimes, if my vision has gone too blurry to let me read (ocular migraines, yay), I end up watching a lot of TV.

Man of Steel was a godawful boring movie, wasn’t it? Was the director hell-bent on setting up even more dramatic circumstances than Superman canon generally offers, and then having his entire (stellar) cast suppress all visible signs of emotion no matter what was happening to them? Spoilers ahead! There were things I was really into, even when they made absolutely no sense: the Krypton setup, Jor El as an interactive AI, Lois in the Arctic dig, Clark turning up at The Daily Planet after shenanigans have occurred. And some things I did not buy at all: the Codex is in his cells! Clark lets his dad die to hide his secret? And then he leaves his mom alone on the farm and becomes a boat hand… because reasons. Also, there were some really weird scene changes and editorial cuts. I feel like a great movie could be made out of alternate takes from this one, if you also just cut the tornado sequence entirely and let the audience assume Jonathan died of natural causes somehow. And maybe if you minimized the shots of alien ships crashing into skyscrapers. That was probably a really unpleasant viewing experience for New Yorkers — it was for me — and I don’t think the movie offered a lot of compensation for making people sit through that. If your big emotional climax is a guy screaming his man-pain to the sky, you’re going to have to top Point Break, and this one didn’t despite its megabudget and superexplosions. Characters feeling things is more compelling than shit blowing up: Film 101.

Now You See Me was mildly amusing, but it broke its promise to the viewer, which was that we’d be following the lives of the illusionists. Instead, after the big opening act, the bulk of the movie focused on Mark Ruffalo’s detective character and a totally nonsensical counterpart from Interpol. A lot of the misdirection was obvious, but the big reveal didn’t feel earned. Meh.

Magic Mike was so stupid I felt my brain cells dribbling out my ears, and the eye candy was so tasteless that it didn’t make up for the (expected) lack of plot and dialogue. I suppose having Olivia Munn take her top off a few minutes into the movie was the directors’ way of throwing a bone to any men in the audience who got dragged to see this, but it didn’t help my feeling that everyone involved was being exploited for very little reward. The frustrating part is that there were some good ideas here, but they didn’t get any follow-through. The subplot with Munn’s character using Tatum’s to get her kink on because she couldn’t share that side of herself with her fiancè was way more interesting than what was going on in the main story with The Kid’s sister. Because a three-way is acceptable in a mainstream movie only if it’s played as a man’s conquest rather than a woman’s desire, I guess. But the story about a hard-luck guy doing high-risk things to make his entrepreneurial dreams come true is one we’ve seen a dozen times before; I’d much rather watch a movie about a psychology grad student working through her discomfort with her own sexuality. That’s a movie we don’t ever get to see.

Frozen was adorable. The tot actually sat still and watched it for about forty-five minutes, which is about three times as long as his usual attention span. I watched the second half over the sounds of his LEGO trains, so it’s possible that I missed some stuff, but I’m sure we’ll see it another three or four hundred times.

The second half of the second season of Arrow did absolutely nothing to redeem itself. So much potential; so much squandering. At least Dig got something to do for, like, twenty minutes.

And that’s all I managed to clear off the DVR this week! We have Starz for a couple of months to watch Outlander (of which I approve so far), and I’m getting a virus every three or four weeks, so tune in next time for more Sick Girl Movie Reviews!

Rereading Outlander

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The upcoming Outlander TV series has prompted me to reread the first few books for the first time in many years. I have a very different perspective on them than I did when I first read them when I was twenty. There were four out at the time, and I read them all — several thousand pages in one big whoosh — over about a week. I loved them. I reread them obsessively.

And then the fifth and sixth books, when they finally came out, were really bad. So I walked away from the series for a while, and have only recently come back to it.

Outlander is in many ways rougher than I remembered, and yet it hasn’t lost any of its emotional heft. The plot is occasionally ridiculous. It’s melodramatic in the extreme. But good God, just try putting it down after the halfway mark; I dare you.

I think the wacky combination of fantasy with otherwise real-world historical fiction works better once you’ve heard Gabaldon describe how she began writing the book as a practice novel, not intended for publication:

All I had when I began writing the first book was rather vague images conjured up by the notion of a man in a kilt, so essentially I began with Jamie, although I had no idea what his name was at the time. About the third day of writing, I had gone to the library to look up things on Scotland—knowing nothing about Scotland in the 18th century—and all I knew about novels at that point was that they should have conflict. And was there any good historical conflict in Scotland in the 18th century? You don’t ask that question without getting back Bonnie Prince Charlie [Charles Edward, Stuart] and the [Jacobite] rising of 1745 as an answer. A lot of conflict—fine! So now I need a female character to play off all these men in kilts. And some sexual tension—that would be good. So I introduced this English woman—no idea who she was or how she got there, but I loosed her into a cottage of Scotsmen to see what she’d do. And she walked in, and they all turned around and stared at her. And one of them said, “My name is Dougal MacKenzie. Who might you be?” And without stopping to think, I typed, “My name is Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, and who the hell are you?” And I said, “Well, you don’t sound at all like an 18th-century person. So I fought with her for several pages, trying to beat her into shape, make her talk like a historical person. But she kept making smart-ass modern remarks, and she took over telling the story herself. So I said, “Go ahead and be modern. I’ll figure out how you got there later.”

Time travel, of course, being the obvious solution to the problem. Which is why the opening of the book, in the “present” 1945, is relatively dull. It’s just there to tell us that Claire is married, that she was a combat nurse, and that she fell through a crack in a stone circle. Gabaldon, being Gabaldon, takes several chapters to do all that.

One of the first things I noticed, given that the first few chapters are pretty slow, is the number of historical errors that I didn’t spot when I was younger, like rationing ending at the same time as the war in 1945. (Sugar was rationed until 1953.) I’ve read lots of grumbling about the 1945 setting over the years. I gather Gabaldon was less careful about the WWII-era research than the eighteenth century stuff, which is understandable when you a) didn’t intend to write a time-travel frame story for your historical epic to begin with, and b) didn’t intend anyone else to read the book anyway — but this stuff should have been caught prior to publication nonetheless. Even today, that era is within living memory; in 1991 it was very much the sort of thing you could ask someone’s parents or grandparents about.

Outlander really has three things going for it: a smart, competent protagonist; a super-hot dude in a kilt; and lots of conflict. Claire is surrounded by people who, inadvertently or deliberately, keep her from getting where she needs to go. Gabaldon is relentless about heaping more trouble on her — to an absurd degree, at times; the sequence outside Wentworth near the end really goes over the top.

Charles Stross has written about the problem of time tourism for people who are not white men (in Western literature, at least). Given that our protagonist is a woman traveling to the eighteenth century, it’s perhaps not surprising that the whole series is chock full of rape, attempted rape, and the threat of rape. On the other hand, men in this series are victimized as well as women, which makes for a nice change of pace, generally speaking. In later books, the number of characters who are raped eventually becomes absurd — if on-page rape descriptions trigger you, you should give this whole series a pass. But the characters’ post-trauma reactions are consistent and unflinchingly described, and I didn’t feel like things had gotten out of hand until the sixth book.

So, do I recommend reading Outlander? Well, now that the first episode of the TV series is available for free, I’d suggest watching it first to see if you like it. It does a much better job of handling the setup, and you can probably watch it in less time than it would take you to read the equivalent section of the book. If the first episode grabs you, then you can dive into the remaining 800-odd pages.

As for the rest of the books…

Minor spoilers for the rest of the series below

What I’m Working On, 2014 edition

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Nina tagged me, and now I have to talk about what I’m working on! Which I’d meant to do anyway. I can’t believe I haven’t posted since February. Except… it’s been a crappy year so far. I’ve been sick for weeks at a time, multiple times. The spouse and the kid have been sick. I’ve switched doctors and am on new medication. All of this has been disruptive, to say the least.

I am working on a new WordPress book based on my WordCamp talks from last year. I hope to have it out later this summer.

I haven’t talked about my fiction here in a while, but I’ve been working hard on it for several months. I attended the Paradise Lost workshop in May, so I had to turn in something short (either a story or a novel chapter). In a daring move, I decided to finish revising one of my rare short stories instead of submitting a chapter as I usually do. The style and setting are  departures from my usual work, so I was delighted when I got some really complimentary comments on it. Of course, the group also pointed out some problems, so now I’m revising again. I’m also working on a couple of new stories. And, since I seem to be back in the short fiction game after many years, I got off my butt and joined Codex.

I’m also close to finishing another novel, and I’m making notes on how to revise the other two. After the new WordPress book is out, that’ll be my to-do list for the rest of the year: Finish novel. Revise novel. Repeat.

 

How to become a WordPress wizard

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My short, facetious answer: read my book!

More seriously, these are the steps I would recommend:

  1. Learn how themes work. The Themeshaper tutorial is an excellent place to start. Then learn how child themes work.
  2. Get really comfortable with conditional tags and the template hierarchy. I still refer to these Codex pages about once a week; they’re that essential (and complicated).
  3. Learn how WP_Query works, why query_posts() is bad, and how to properly modify a loop or add a secondary loop.
  4. Learn how hooks (actions and filters) work.
  5. Learn to build custom taxonomies and custom post types. You’ll pick up the basics of plugin development along the way.
  6. Learn the options and settings APIs and data validation (that is, writing secure plugins and themes).
  7. Tackle the rest of this list as needed.

Only seven steps! Not so bad.

Year, begone

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2013, I have nothing to say to you. When we reminisce about the good years, your name will not be called. Begone.

Your pictures will lurk under the others’, your corners forever warring for territory on the sticky page. When you begin to damage your opponents, we will call a halt to the hostilities. We will resettle you elsewhere, in an undisputed box.

You tried to kill us. You burned us, drowned us, sickened us, shot us — what is it with years and guns lately? — and you sent your winds to sweep us away. Keep sweeping as you go; your mess awaits our care.

Pieces of you are missing. We buried them with our families and friends. You leave without your full complement of passengers; I deem you a poor conveyance.

Your governance, you stole from your predecessors’ store of jokes. Here, take it back. It is what we asked for; it was not what we wanted.

Return to your father’s house, little year, imprecise assassin, careless keeper. Sit at the feet of your elders. Ask them, Could I have done better, given what came before?

Perhaps they can find some comfort for you. I cannot; what I might have shared with you, you have taken.

Begone, year. Welcome, year.