Published in: on July 24, 2009 at 11:24 pm  Comments (1)  

This tells me everything I need to know about Transformers 2.

If you are wary of spoilers, you might not want to click the link, as it discusses the “plot” in excruciating detail. But really, spoilers are the least of what might detract from your enjoyment of the film.

Published in: on June 28, 2009 at 12:24 am  Leave a Comment  

not just a movie review

Miriam Burstein examines The Golden Compass movie as a critique on Catholicism.

Published in: on December 9, 2007 at 1:45 am  Leave a Comment  


I saw Stardust on Friday when it opened, as early as I could manage. My overall impression–It was a perfectly charming fairy tale. I’ve heard comparisons made to Princess Bride, and they are not unwarranted. The moral of the story and how it showed in Tristan’s development, however, stuck in my craw.

One thing that it managed to do better than any other movie I’ve seen recently is handle a many-stranded plot with some measure of finesse. It’s a complicated story, not unlike other recent movies like Transformers and Dead Man’s Chest, but handled with a great deal more skill, i.e. the plot threads intertwine well and it does not collapse into a giant pile of stupid towards the end.

The weakest spot for me was Robert de Niro painfully trying to act out a role that seemed made for Robin Williams. And the sky pirates did seem like an awful tangent—in that the other pre-existing conflicts were largely just paused while the characters Grew Up and matured in a stint of condensed, unadulterated Bildungsroman-ing. Important Moral Lessons were parceled out, and it lent a stiltedness to the character development. I much rather would have seen Tristan and Yvaine develop organically over the course of dealing with the challenges they were already facing. And the end result of it all is that Tristan gains the ability to return home and flaunt how great he has become.

This is where my biggest issue is. The way Tristan’s ‘coming home again’ scene plays out is directly contrary to the overall message that you shouldn’t strive to impress people you don’t really want to be like. His great feat here is simply showing up Victoria and Humphrey, which means that his self-esteem still rests on their opinion of him.

Stardust has a lot going for it—it has a lot of plot, a lot of humor, and a lot of heart. It isn’t a perfect movie, but I sincerely wish there were more like it.


Published in: on August 13, 2007 at 2:27 am  Leave a Comment  

Snape fangirling gone mad

For the past few days I’ve been trying to formulate a response to Jenny Sawyer’s article “Missing from ‘Hallows’ – a real moral struggle” other than LOL WHUT.


There are parts that I agree with on general principle, specifically, that works of fiction should center on characters that have a compelling moral crisis. However, I don’t necessarily think it’s a fault on the author’s part if one happens to find the crisis of a minor character more compelling than the hero’s. That’s largely dependent on personal taste.

I, like many, love the woobies. You may then, correctly assume that my favorite characters in the series are Snape and Neville. But my adoration of characters that suffer so wonderfully is hardly universal. Just look at all the froth and ire over works in which a bona fide woobie is the major protagonist (I’m thinking of Catcher in the Rye and Neon Genesis Evangelion here.) Criticisms that they are too passive, too whiny, too weak abound. Some will identify with an alienated hero, some won’t.

I think the main point of contention is the dismissal of Harry’s conflicts and growth as a protagonist, that they aren’t the /true/ center of the story. Harry is more at the center of conflict in the book than anyone else. And he does learn, and grow, and through him some of the books major themes are developed. The people you look up to aren’t always perfect. People are not static; every once in a while you need to stop and reevaluate your assumptions about them. The best things in life are friends and family, especially friends who become family. Harry changes from someone who’s lost and alone to someone whose life is filled with love. And he /earned/ that.

Published in: on July 28, 2007 at 7:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

Harry Potter and the Oedipal Drama

Do you know why literary critics still cling to old-school Freudian psychoanalytical theory when it’s long past being of any interest to modern psychology? Because it’s fun to see how many times you can use the word ‘penis’ in scholarly writing, that’s why.

I read Freudian criticism of Harry Potter today. Which was not nearly as traumatizing as reading it for Alice in Wonderland, but I digress.

One of Freud’s most applicable theories to the study of literature is his assertion that, through fiction, we explore fantasies that have no acceptable outlet in reality–that boring, stifling, unfulfilling sphere where the id can’t come out and play freely. Fiction writing provides the freedom we need to let out our hidden little wants and desires, but it also placates the ego by representing a/the world as we want it to be.

One point that the article “Harry Potter’s Oedipal Issues” brings up is that part of the fundamental appeal of the books is that it gives us a fantasy world that people can safely explore, one that doesn’t endanger ‘reality’. Like many classic children’s fantasy novels, there’s a distinct threshold that separates the two spheres, between the real and the fantasy world. Alice had her rabbit hole and her looking glass. Narnia had its wardrobe. Harry has his platform 9 3/4. The barrier represents a leaving behind of worldly concerns, so the focus is purely on internal development.

But considering more classically Freudian concerns, and interesting questions was raised. Are the deaths of Harry’s parents the fulfillment of an Oedipal fantasy? I can follow the Oedipus metaphor insomuch as Harry’s father gave his life to try to save Lily and Harry (the death of the father clears any obstacle to the primary relationship of the mother and son). But what, then, about Lily, who then sacrifices herself to save Harry? On one hand, it satisfies the need for proof of the mother’s love, but the traditional paradigm wants the death of the father and the possession of the mother. Maybe pure validation is all we really want after all.

Published in: on July 23, 2007 at 6:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

To arms, the idiocracy is nigh! Or not.

To all those who despair upon the fascination with Harry Potter as a sign that the masses have no sense of literature or taste–just stop, please. You are making the rest of us literary snobs look like asshats.

Now, I don’t deny that I can be astoundingly elitist about certain things. I froth when I see the term criticism used as nothing more than a synonym for a book review. I believe those who haven’t learned to analyze literature can hardly make a good claim to sentience. I regard those who think English is a useless degree as lower forms of life who probably wallow in their own fecal matter. Somehow, though, I manage not to despair that not everyone reads nothing but Shakespeare or Dante or Chaucer or Thackeray or Woolf or Pynchon for entertainment purposes.

Published in: on July 16, 2007 at 7:02 pm  Comments (1)  

The Silver Metal Lover

It’s become painfully obvious that there is a sore lack of lit crit that deals with fantasy writing, aside from big names like Tolkein and Le Guin. If searching for essays on Lovecraft made me frustrated, searching for writing on Tanith Lee is a maddening exercise in futility. I do know of The Hidden Library of Tanith Lee, which I cannot wait to get my grubby little hands once it wends its way to me via interlibrary loan. I’ve heard that it manages to be accessible due to extensive summaries of her works, a necessary thing as a good number of her books are out of print now. Although it does instill a certain dread that it’ll be little more than a sparknotes treatment of her work, I’ll happily take what I can get.

I recently finished reading The Silver Metal Lover, which I had heard praised as one of her best works. For my money, it certainly is, but the good and bad of it isn’t my primary concern. You can find thorough reviews of it here and here.

In this particular case, I’m interested in the transformation of the heroine in coming of age novels. Our Jane here exists in a post-apocalyptic (see the theme of recovery after destruction looming?) world where she lives among the clouds with her intelligent, emotionally distant mother who gives her pills to give her just the perfect body shape and hair color, like her own personal doll. Jane’s friends, if you can call them that, are upper-class libertines, whose lives revolve around socializing and sex. Clovis in particular seemed a young Oscar Wilde incarnate. Jane herself is a deeply flawed, you might even say fractured, character. She’s emotional to the point of hysterics, generally afraid of asserting herself, and completely subject to the whims and expectations of others.

So then, Jane’s task, the thing she must accomplish, is to find an independent sense of self, reject the values of the bon vivant upperclass that restrain her so, and gain an autonomous existence. Her infatuation with Silver, the titular character, provides the impetus for this. In order to be with him she has to confront her friends and reject some expectations of her.

But there is something troubling about the Jane/Silver relationship that develops. Mainly, that they exchange one kind of subservience to subservience to each other. No, in order to carry out the necessary change that will shape our heroine, he has to become a sacrifice.

That is largely the reason why I’m hesitant to label this book a romance at all. The thought of the lover existing for the sake of another’s development is somewhat troubling to me.

Published in: on July 14, 2007 at 4:54 pm  Leave a Comment  

1-18-08: ia ia Cthulhu ftaghn

The internet has been buzzing lately with speculation about the mysterious trailer that appeared before the Transformer movie. It begins with a party scene, a gaggle of attractive young twentysomethings all gathered together to wish some Dude a happy sendoff to his new job. Then, the world shakes. Must be an earthquake. The camera tracks some people up to the roof. Explosions are in the distance. The panic spills out onto the street, with cryptic shouts indicating a classic monster movie. Did you see it? It’s huge! Then we see the fiery, severed head of the Statue of Liberty getting punted into the street. Overall it was like a beer ad gone horribly horribly awry.

No name for the movie give. Just the date 1-18-08.

I’ve been poking around seeing what the internet has to say about it. Apparently there is a website, which just shows two timestamped photographs, one of a happy reveler at the party, and then another with terrified faces looking up at presumable the apparent doom of mankind, with timestamps marking them just thirty-five minutes apart.

Rumors are abounding. The most intriguing one I’ve heard yet is speculation that it’s a Cthulhu movie. I squeed for about five seconds in anticipation before I realized that that is one of the worst ideas ever.

So Cthulhu rises and eats New York. Okay. Nice little 9/11 parable you have there, but watching shakey camera footage pointedly avoiding the monster for two hours while we see minor characters disappearing, and then ending on the world’s destruction is about as far from entertaining as I can imagine. This is the tension that makes the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game work in a way that a movie portrayal never could. Lovecraft’s world is fatalistic. There will be no happy ending, for anyone. The only question is how long you can survive, and how much sanity you’re left with after you get a glimpse of the ultimate, horrifying truth of the universe.

The thing that was utterly brilliant about Lovecraft was the way he allegorized the massive shock that followed in the wake of Darwin’s theory of evolution that changed our perception about the nature of the universe and man’s place in it. We couldn’t look at nature the same way after that. Wordsworth’s teacher and muse was Tennyson’s red tooth and claw. I care for nothing, all shall go.

The pursuit of knowledge will only lead us to further understanding of just how insignificant we are. All of our enlightenment ideals and lofty notions about human perfectibility don’t matter. The universe is a fundamentally hostile place, and one day humanity will become extinct. That is what Lovecraftian mythos embodies.

Lovecraft’s horrors are those of the vast empty depths of a hostile universe. They are such that the human mind cannot fathom them and still function as if life had any meaning. They are, by their own very nature, beyond any human understanding.

No Lovecraft movies please. There’s just no way to do it right. The Mouth of Madness came close, but really, the creatures in it were small fry; it knew better than to bring out the big guns. You leave Cthulhu lie.

Published in: on July 10, 2007 at 6:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Transformers: the movie

Ah, Tranformers.

Awesome, terrible, fantastic power lurking just underneath the surface of the ordinary and everyday and recognizable. This is what the sublime was to a child in the eighties.

And oh the allegory. Optimus Prime was the incarnation of all that’s good and noble in the world. He was honor and bravery and goodness and a truckload of solid whoopass. Megatron was a Miltonic satan, who knew that humans were weak and unworthy. But my favorite of all was Starscream, that wonderful Iago, who always has the knife hidden just behind his back and weighing when to strike even as he smiles and bows.

So. Thoughts on the movie.

I went in with little expectations. The cartoon wasn’t one of my obsessions during my childhood (that honor was largely reserved for Voltron and He Man/She Ra and My Little Ponies); I remember largely enjoying because I liked the scenes of the Decepticons bitching at each other. I, like many, cringed when the initial designes popped up. I find them largely hideous, with not enough straight lines or large blocks of color to focus the gaze—really about as easy on the eyes as magic eye posters.

They were, however, not nearly as hard to watch on a large screen. That’s a plus.

I was altogether pleasantly surprised on the whole. The first …half hour? Forty five minutes?…were made of pure awesome. We saw something intertwined in the story of the Transformers that the cartoon never properly accomplished: human drama. The scenes of our young protagonist at school, with his peers, with his parents, were humorous and entertaining and very, very /true/.

The movie was also particularly adept in its introduction of the Decepticons, particularly the introduction of Blackout and Megatron’s discovery. Blackout’s scene at the army base touches on one of the most fundamental premises of the horror genre—what makes zombie movies and invasion of the bodysnatchers so primally disturbing—the moment of cognative dissonance where one realizes that something familiar is malevolent. That primal human fear of betrayal. The Ravenloft rpg calls this a ‘malign paradigm shift’. Your comfortable, stable universe is not what you think it is.

Megatron’s discovery by humans seemed almost a homage to Lovecraft, with humans driven to explore the ends of the earth and find terrible, alien squidoo.

So, as I said, some parts of the movie were entertaining and /right/ in a way that the cartoon never was. However, once all the main Transformers showed up, it started skating rapidly downhill.

I would like to call for an official ban on movies using multiple plot threads if they can’t manage to keep them from collapsing into a giant, tangled pile of stupid midway through the movie. Now, like I said, I didn’t have much in the way of expectations for this movie, but the realistic human touches that were present in were quickly forgotten once, approximately, the men in black showed up. I think whoever on the story team that had any knowledge of military protocol checked out of the movie. But furthermore, the continuity was terrible. The fine art of having logical causes and effects was not so much with the happening.

There’s no logical reason for Evil Sector 7 Guy having any interest in Mikaela’s criminal record. Or for the military crew, who had encountered two transformers thus far who both blasted the shit out of them, to immediately leap to Protagonist Boy’s defense and demand that Bumblebee be freed. Some characters were simply crowded out of the script and given no meaningful presence late in the film, which begs the question if they even warranted their inclusion earlier in the film. Etc. It just dissolves into a massive bloated cgi clash of the titans.

And the ending scene in which our teenage heroes make out on Bumblebee’s hood while all the other autobots are standing around watching? So very wrong on so many levels.

Published in: on July 9, 2007 at 8:06 pm  Comments (1)