Unordered List

Monday, 25 January 2016

The Big Short: Douchepocalypse Now

The Big Short is full of scenes where finance bros stare at each other in dawning horror, stunned by the realization that the U.S. economy is built on fraud and misinformation. Conveniently, that is exactly how I feel about The Big Short receiving any kind of critical acclaim whatsoever.

Going into this movie, I knew two things: the wigs and hairstyling looked horrible, and at some point Margot Robbie would explain The Economy while gratuitously nude. Thus warned, I assumed I was in for a reasonably good Oscar movie with some dumb misogynist garnishes. How wrong I was.

Instead, the experience was like gazing into Michael Moore's butthole with a telescope built by Seth MacFarlane.


Billed as a kind of biographical comedy, The Big Short is more like a docudrama with occasional jokes thrown in. The technical details are complex, but the basic narrative is simple: a handful of hedge fund managers correctly predict that the housing market is going to crash, and decide to bet against the U.S. economy. So while they do uncover some stunning examples of Wall Street fraud, they're not exactly underdog heroes. The cast is split between loud rich men who are Right but widely ignored by the financial establishment (Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt, et al), and everyone else, who is Wrong.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Awards eligibility post & highlights from 2015

It's Hugo Award nomination season, and I'm eligible in the Fan Writer category!

If you enjoy this blog, please consider me on your Hugo ballot! (Or other non-Hugo awards that I don't know about!) To nominate for the 2016 Hugos, you either need to have attended Worldcon in 2015, or have bought a ticket for Worldcon 2016 or 2017. Or you can buy a "supporting membership," which lets you vote on the Hugos (so ~prestigious!) and get ebooks of the nominated books/short stories.



For the "fan writer" category, you can consider anything I wrote in a ~fannish capacity. So, this blog, along with my Tumblr and Twitter, etc. Here are some highlights from 2015!


Interview: Mad Max: Fury Road costume designer Jenny Beavan (Now nominated for an Oscar!)

The new heroes of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I'm looking forward to writing more about Star Wars this month!

What was up with that Black Widow scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron? My most ~controversial post of 2015, apparently.

Age of Ultron: The empire of Tony Stark On Age of Ultron's imperialist overtones, and Tony Stark's status as a burgeoning supervillain.

Ant-Man: Fun, but still a waste of $130 million

Review: Mad Max: Fury Road The most important movie of 2015.

Podcast: Guest appearance on Into It, discussing Mad Max: Fury Road with regular host Elle Collins.

For my other writing, head on over to Tumblr, where I host my more casual posts & commentary.

P.S. My friend Elizabeth Minkel and I recently launched a weekly newsletter for fanfic recs (a new fandom or fic theme each week!) and cool fandom news/links. You can sign up here, and check out previous issues here. It's pretty great!

Saturday, 26 December 2015

The new heroes of 'Star Wars: The Force Awakens'

WARNING: This post contains spoilers for Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The Force Awakens aims straight for the nostalgic hindbrain of Star Wars fandom, but my favourite moments were invariably the ones where we saw something new.

The looming wreckage of a Star Destroyer on Jakku, hinting at three decades of history without a word of exposition. Kylo Ren's desperation to forge a new identity outside the established rivalry between Jedi and Sith. Rey's wordless introduction, focusing on her surroundings and her evocative theme music. And in a more general sense, the diversity of the cast, which may be the most significant innovation J.J. Abrams brought to the franchise. It's hard to articulate how important and exciting it feels to see actors like John Boyega, Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac at the helm of a story like this, except to say: oh my god I'm so in love.


You can easily map various aspects of the original trio onto Rey, Poe and Finn. In the foreground, Rey continues the Skywalker legacy as a Force-sensitive prodigy with a natural affinity for machines, trapped in an isolated desert settlement but dreaming of the stars. Then Finn and Poe share attributes from both Han and Leia: the pilot, the icon of the rebellion, the outlaw, the reluctant hero who is motivated more by love than by political ideals. Poe's arc in the first half of the film even follows Leia's role in A New Hope, as he passes important information to a droid before being kidnapped and interrogated by the enemy, only to be rescued by a stormtrooper.

This melting pot of familiar motifs is reminiscent of the way J.J. Abrams remixed Spock's death scene for Star Trek Into Darkness, but this time it was far more effective. While Into Darkness offered an unsatisfying copy of an already iconic moment, The Force Awakens had more in common with the way long-running superhero comics get updated for modern audiences. It extracted the most compelling ideas at the heart of Star Wars, pulled them apart, and rearranged them to make something fresh. This didn't always work (in particular, the Starkiller Base attack was unnecessarily derivative), but the three new leads were a phenomenal success.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Ant-Man: Fun, but still a waste of $130 million.

Following this film's much-discussed behind-the-scenes meltdown, my expectations were low. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Ant-Man is a decent movie, if not a particularly interesting one. At the very least, it was more coherent than Age of Ultron.

Both movies were the product of embarrassingly public disputes between their directors and Marvel Studios, but Ant-Man managed to resolve itself into an entertaining (if lightweight) heist movie while AoU was a mess of conflicting subplots and franchise tie-ins: Joss Whedon's weird Black Widow issues and inconsistent characterization vs. Marvel's obsession with clumsy sequel foreshadowing. You could pick out certain scenes in Ant-Man that felt like Edgar Wright's work, but it didn't feel patchy like Thor's bizarre cave-swimming subplot did in Age of Ultron.


Ant-Man and the Marvel Cinematic Universe

More than any other MCU movie so far, Ant-Man captured the tone of a solo comic in a larger fictional universe: casually acknowledging the existence of other superheroes without going for an actual team-up. We've now reached the point where the MCU is big enough to support cameos from familiar side-characters without it seeming forced, which is great for worldbuilding purposes. It's just too bad this only happened after the departure of Edgar Wright, who wanted to make a standalone movie with (presumably) a more esoteric tone.

Ideally, Marvel should find a happy medium between franchise crossover moments and allowing filmmakers more freedom to make a personal mark. That's why comics like Ms Marvel and Hawkeye are so popular: they have a memorable sense of personality.

Monday, 1 June 2015

INTERVIEW: "Mad Max: Fury Road" costume designer Jenny Beavan

Previously: My review of Mad Max: Fury Road

The Mad Max series boasts some of the most influential costumes in sc-if/fantasy cinema, kick-starting a trend for post-apocalyptic fetish punk that inspired numerous movies, music videos and outlandish outfits at Burning Man.

Oscar winning costume designer Jenny Beavan was brought in to develop the look of Fury Road, a far cry from her best-known work on historical dramas like The King's Speech and Sense and Sensibility. The result was a fresh new aesthetic that blends grimy realism with the kind of memorable extremes we've come to expect from a Mad Max movie.

Just as director George Miller's attention to detail led to the most exciting movie in the franchise, Jenny Beavan's costumes were the most technically ambitious and character-driven so far. Happily for me, she agreed to an interview about her experiences on the film, discussing the vision behind Fury Road's costumes.


HelloTailor: One of the fascinating things about Fury Road is the way George Miller worked from a 3,500 panel storyboard instead of a traditional script. Did you collaborate with [concept artist] Brendan McCarthy on the character designs, or did you get started after his storyboard was complete?

Jenny Beavan: No, I didn’t have any collaboration with Brendan McCarthy - but I did meet him when he visited Namibia, which was exciting. I came on board relatively late in the proceedings, considering the project had been prepping for some 12 years I think!

The earlier Mad Max movies have a really iconic post-apocalyptic look. How did you balance the references to Norma Moriceau's Mad Max costumes with the new aesthetic for Fury Road?

Mad Max: Fury Road was absolutely a continuation of the Mad Max genre and at the same time completely different - if that makes sense. We are in the same and a completely different wasteland, and with a lot of new characters. Because George Miller is the genius behind all the films there will always be a certain continuity, as it is his vision we were all creating.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road

I saw John Wick recently, a movie I'd heartily recommend to any fan of the action genre. With inventive fight scenes and skillful cinematography, it was the definitive "badass man goes on a revenge killing spree" movie. Thankfully, this means we can now retire that trope forever. We're done. It's over. After its millionth retelling, this story can cede its spotlight to things like Mad Max: Fury Road, which displayed a far broader understanding of human nature.

[Also, before I go any further into this Very Serious Review: THROW ME IN THE TRASH, FURY ROAD IS AN EXPLODING MUTANT MASTERPIECE OF LIZARD-CHOMPING, FLAMING GUITAR-PLAYING GENIUS. I spent the first third having heart palpitations over Max's mask and blood tube, the second third thinking, "WHAT THE FUCK!? DUDES ON POLES WITH CHAINSAWS!?" and the final third having some kind of religious experience where I wanted to cry because Tom Hardy made a quizzical grunting noise or the Motorcycle Matriarchy had shown up to save the day, or simply because We Are Not Things, dammit!

And then I went home and read a metric fuckload of behind-the-scenes coverage, because this was a rare instance where that shit is legitimately interesting. Did you know they shot 480 hours of footage? And yet the editor, Margaret Sixel, pulled it all together into one of the most comprehensible and dynamic action narratives I've ever seen! Give that woman an Oscar.]



In every regard, Fury Road was made for me. It took my favourite genre (wildly over-stylized apocalyptic fantasy) and imbued it with emotional and political themes I understood on a personal level. For too long, I've had to watch Hollywood blockbusters with part of my brain switched off, attempting to ignore their obsession with cops and soldiers and steroid-inflated machismo. BUT NO LONGER, MY FRIENDS. No longer.

Obviously I do appreciate characters like Captain America and James Bond, but the fact is that they are not my heroes. What personal connection can I possibly have to Bruce Wayne? None, even as a power fantasy. Whereas with Fury Road, I can really feel this shit. It fulfills my desire to see women work together to protect each other, and for people to overthrow their destructive and abusive leaders. It works on a fundamental level because I know what it's like to live in a world ruined by centuries of pollution, controlled by a cruel patriarchal culture that disregards the souls and bodies of women.

You can hardly describe Fury Road as realistic, but its story felt real to me in every way that counts.



Friday, 1 May 2015

Age of Ultron: The Empire of Tony Stark

Previously: My reviews of The Avengers and Captain America: The Winter Soldier
"What the was up with that Black Widow scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron?"
My unspoilery review of Age of Ultron over at the Daily Dot.

Warning: SPOILERS AHEAD.

When you write a negative review for a summer blockbuster, the response usually goes something like this: Why Do You Hate Fun? To get this out of the way, I'm not judging Age of Ultron from a tower of joyless snobbery. Rather, I think it failed in two pretty basic ways: As an "event" sequel to the Avengers franchise, and as a Joss Whedon movie.

I didn't have high expectations for Age of Ultron, but I generally trust Whedon to deliver an entertaining story with a solid emotional core. The Avengers still holds up as a fun, well-paced movie with an unusually engaging villain, making Age of Ultron all the more disappointing because it didn't live up to these three specific standards. It had all the big-budget action setpieces you'd expect, but overall it was incoherent and riddled with lazy storytelling and self-contradictory characterization. Even Whedon's trademark witty dialogue often fell flat for me, with too many jokes either interrupting the action or feeling like they'd been written for other characters.


Ultimately, I don't think Whedon had any interest in maintaining continuity within the franchise. To a certain extent this was fine, because Age of Ultron had to be accessible to a wider audience. They couldn't include detailed callbacks to earlier movies. But AoU didn't just sidestep recent installments in the franchise, it contradicted them. For example:
  • How did the team get together? AoU opens with the Avengers storming a castle to retrieve Loki's scepter, strongly implying that they've been based out of Stark Tower for some time. However, CA:TWS ends with Cap and Falcon going off to find Bucky (which admittedly gets a throwaway mention in AoU) and Natasha dropping her Black Widow identity to go travelling and "find herself." How did Natasha come to rejoin the Avengers, and when did her not-very-plausible romance with Bruce begin?
  • Tony Stark destroyed his Iron Man suits at the end of Iron Man 3. Obviously we all KNEW he'd go back to being Iron Man, but AoU doesn't mention how this happened. Instead we launch straight in with him using a private army of Iron Man drones to invade/protect Sokovia. Pepper Potts was offscreen throughout, which felt especially odd compared to Erik Selvig's pointless cameo.
  • Steve Rogers' characterization veered back to its Whedon state in The Avengers: stuffy and priggish, with no real impact on the plot. Bizarrely, Steve's "worst nightmare" hallucination was little more than a simplistic flashback to WWII, telling us nothing further about the character. Then there's the running joke where Steve (a frontline soldier who grew up in 1930s NYC), scolds Tony for cursing. In what universe does that make any sense, other than to fabricate some LOLs for the Robert Downey Jr quip machine?

While some of AoU's narrative flaws can be blamed on editorial demands from Marvel (ie, too many characters and overly long action sequences, or the needless Infinity Stone foreshadowing), the most glaring problems were often in areas where Joss Whedon usually excels. Let's start with our villain, Ultron.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

What was up with that Black Widow scene in Avengers: Age of Ultron?

I was going to post an Age of Ultron review today, but since the movie isn't out in the U.S. until next week, I've decided to stick with one specific topic: that bizarre conversation between Bruce Banner and Black Widow.

SPOILER WARNING: This post (obviously) contains spoilers, but only for one scene between Bruce Banner and Black Widow.

If you've seen the movie, you may already know what I'm talking about. It's the scene where Natasha tells Bruce she was sterilized during her childhood spy training, and how this makes her a "monster" like the Hulk. "It makes everything easier," she says. "Even killing."

This conversation was so terrible that I actually double-checked with several friends to see if they interpreted it the same way. They did. So: let's unpack what the hell was going on in the mind of acclaimed feminist Joss Whedon when he crafted this masterpiece. (By the way, Scarlett Johansson was pregnant while filming this movie.)


Bruce and Natasha begin the movie in the early stages of a tentative romance. He mentions that he can't have children, and she says that she can't either: she was forcibly sterilized as a teenager.

This backstory is horrifying, but it gels with what we already know about Natasha. She was trained (or brainwashed) as a child by a Russian spy agency, where girls were taught to be perfect assassins. From their perspective, it was "expedient" to sterilize their students, preventing unwanted pregnancies and cutting off another potential family tie. But instead of being handled sensitively, this backstory concluded with Natasha describing herself as a "monster" because she couldn't have biological children. Sterilization made it easier for her and her colleagues to kill people.



So, either the movie is dehumanizing Natasha because she can't get pregnant, or she thinks of herself as a monster as a result of abuse she suffered as a child. Here are my top three explanations for what was going on in this scene.