Movie Rants, Uncategorized

A new adventure!

Mae Govannen, mellyn nin!

You may have noticed that I have, once again, disappeared from this blog for an inordinate amount of time. This is because I’ve been doing some work on a new blog, which can be reached at the following link:

What with my day job, my social life, and just trying to survive in the cold, cruel world on my own and all, I don’t actually have a whole lot of time for blogging. So I decided to take my favourite thing about blogging–which is writing movie/television reviews–and just focus on that for a while, cutting out the clutter. I may one day return to posting random nerdy things here on a regular basis–ironically, that’ll probably happen when I get my life together and start acting like an adult–but for now, it’s all movie reviews, all the time, at my new site, Wizard at the Clicks!

By the way, if you understand the reference in that name, I love you forever.


Movie Rants

The Martian Supremacy

I feel like hard sci-fi movies have been getting progressively better over the last few years. First there was Gravity, which was visually beautiful but annoyed a lot of science geeks by not doing its research. Then there was Interstellar, which got the science right (and was even more visually beautiful), but got a little too ambitious with its story. Now we have The Martian, which is an unqualified gift from God to nerds everywhere.

Before I begin explaining what’s so great about this movie, I must confess that I have not read the original novel by Andy Weir. It’s been on my reading list since before I even knew there was a movie coming out, but, well…I have a long reading list. I will definitely make it a higher priority after seeing the film.

Because everything about The Martian made me happy. From the opening shot of the Martian landscape (so much better than that “Explore Mars” app on Google Earth that I used to waste time on) to “I Will Survive” playing over the end credits, there was not a single moment I didn’t like. And we’re talking about a loooonnngg movie here.

In case you haven’t seen it, the plot is simple: Astronaut Mark Watney, one of the first people to explore Mars, gets hit by debris while his crew is evacuating during a severe storm. Thinking him dead, the rest of the astronauts reluctantly leave him behind. But Mark, aka Jason Bourne, is not dead, and he is determined to stay that way, despite being marooned on a planet with no air and with no way to contact NASA.

So in some ways, the rest of the movie plays out like Robinson Crusoe in space, except that while Robinson Crusoe was an unforgivably boring book about building houses and fishing, this is an exciting story about…well, growing potatoes and talking in code. But trust me, it actually is exciting. Because it’s on freaking Mars, where humans are not meant to survive and anything can go wrong at a moment’s notice, and it does. Never has growing potatoes looked so much like a Bourne-worthy stunt. Plus, the folks on Earth eventually figure out Mark is still alive, so part of the movie is about their equally odds-defying efforts to rescue him.

And as for the science–NASA has been actively promoting this movie, so I think it’s safe to say at least some of the survival methods it shows will actually be part of the first manned mission to Mars. They’re shown and explained in such detail that this could almost be a how-to guide for those astronauts, in case they get stuck.

Best of all, everyone who is supposed to be a scientist (which is literally everyone in the movie) acts and talks like a scientist. Which is to say, they take a ridiculous amount of joy and pride in their work, and they’re not ashamed to show it. That’s an aspect of scientific people that I think doesn’t get conveyed on screen often enough. Every scientist I’ve ever met LOVES being a scientist and will burst into gleefully nerdy rants at the slightest provocation. That’s exactly how they act in this movie.

And that’s what really makes it great. The Martian is very intense at times (and there’s a gory scene at the beginning that is not for the faint of heart), but it manages to keep a light-hearted tone even through the most extreme life-or-death situations. Part of this is due to Mark’s sense of humour, since he narrates a good portion of the movie through his video logs. No matter what Mars throws at him, he responds by stating the problem and how awful it is, and then saying something along the lines of “I am gonna science the *bleep* outta this.” (Actual dialogue.) Honestly, what with Mark’s reliance on duct tape, his tendency to blow stuff up, and his relentlessly cheerful outlook, I sometimes felt like I was watching a really intense episode of Mythbusters.

Throw in the gem of a moment when Sean Bean explains why the secret meeting he’s a part of has been codenamed Elrond (also, Sean Bean survives this movie! It’s a miracle!), and all the disco music a Guardians of the Galaxy fan can stomach, and you’ve got your nerdy self an early Christmas present. This movie is magical.

If it’s xkcd-approved, you KNOW it’s good.


Movie Rants

Furiosa and the Future of Sci-Fi

I just had to do a Mad Max post. Had to. I’ve been holding it in far too long.

As you know if you spent any time on the Internet at the end of May, Mad Max: Fury Road is pretty much the best thing to happen to action/sci-fi movies since Harrison Ford. It’s an epic, two-hour car chase packed with practical effects and interesting characters that illustrates the beautiful results of unapologetically embracing a simple storyline and milking it for all its worth. Nerds like me like it for the creative backdrop and frugal storytelling, car enthusiasts like it because it brings all their daydreams to life, Australians like it because they made it happen, and everyone likes it for the flamethrower guitar dude.

And feminists like it. A lot. So much that I wouldn’t be surprised if people start referring to it as “that feminist car movie.” Why do we like it so much? Is it because the protagonist is female and almost beats Tom Hardy in a fight? That can’t be the whole story–we already had that kind of female hero in Ellen Ripley, among others. Is it because of the sheer number of women? I don’t think so. While ten named female characters with important roles has to be some kind of record for an action movie, I somehow don’t think feminists would be as thrilled if it happened in, say, a James Bond film.

No, it’s not just that women exist in the Mad Max universe, it’s how they’re portrayed. Normally, a female character in an action and/or sci-fi movie will fill one of three roles: the male protagonist’s love interest, who probably needs to be rescued; the villain’s henchwoman, who probably tries to seduce the male protagonist; or the super-tough fighter chick who can beat up guys twice her size without putting one hair on her immaculate head out of place. And no matter what role she fills, the action movie girl has to look like a supermodel.

If her fists don’t kill you, her sharp eyeliner will.

This is because most action movies (heck, most movies) are written and directed by men. And, frankly, a lot of men just don’t know how to write female roles. Plus, it seems many studio executives have somehow got the idea that women are not interested in movies about space battles and car chases, so they only market them to men.

Not so with Fury Road. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is a movie made by a man who understands that girls love explosions, too. A man who actually consulted a woman to learn how to write convincing female characters (what a revolutionary thought!). The result is spectacular.

I don’t love the women in Fury Road because they drive cool war vehicles and shoot giant guns (although…that is kinda nice). I love them because they are consistently portrayed as people, not plot points. None of them fit into any of the categories I just described. Furiosa is a tough fighter chick, but she doesn’t look like a supermodel, and her skills always seem fairly realistic considering her physique and background. The Wives do look like supermodels, but they have distinct personalities and provide more brains than brawn. Then there are the Many Mothers, who are too old and non-supermodel-y to even appear in your standard post-apocalypse story–yet here they are, riding their sick motorcycles and taking down tyrants like they’re freakin’ Australian road warriors or something. Oh wait…

And yes, at least one of those actresses did her own stunts.

All of these women get the same amount of character development you’d expect from male action heroes–maybe more, since lots of movies with more dialogue don’t give their characters the kind of depth this one does.

Oftentimes, when filmmakers want to show off how “progressive” they are, they have their fighter chicks constantly mouthing off about how they don’t need to be rescued, women can do everything men can do, etc. (See many a work by Joss Whedon.) This can get annoying, especially to a moderate feminist like me. But it’s another trap Mad Max doesn’t fall into. Furiosa, despite being the physical embodiment of raw determination, does need help sometimes. And she acknowledges it. She also offers help when others need it. What she doesn’t do is give the childish “girls are better than boys” speech, because when you’re being chased across a desert by maniacs with exploding spears, you don’t have time to whine about gender politics.

Only time for epic teamwork.

That speech would also be incorrect, because portraying the female characters as people takes nothing away from the male characters. It’s worth mentioning that, despite what Buzzfeed may tell you, Max is super important to the plot, despite not being the protagonist. He makes the happy ending possible! And he’s played by Tom Hardy, so he can’t not be awesome. Then there’s Nux, the most adorable little suicidal berserker you’ll ever see. He brings me so much joy. And, in all honesty, he probably has the most interesting character arc in the whole movie. So it’s not like Fury Road is only for the ladies.

How can you not love a guy who paints smiley faces on his neck tumours? Nux for President, everyone.

What I’m trying to say is that this is one of the few movies in its genre to truly treat male and female characters as equals. Which means men and women in the audience loved it equally. Which means a lot of them paid full price for tickets, multiple times (come on, I can’t be the only one who saw it twice in one week). ARE YOU LISTENING, HOLLYWOOD? This is what we want. Not more Ripleys, not more car chases–just more women who are people, not things.

And more flamethrower guitars wouldn’t hurt, either.