Pacific Rim (A Review)

(This will contain some spoilers but I’ll try to keep them at a minimum. Really no more than I think you’ll get in any other movie review.)

A few weeks ago I talked my partner into seeing Pacific Rim in IMAX 3D for our eight year anniversary. (As a quick explanation of our relationship the copy of When Harry Met Sally is his and Apocalypse Now Redux is mine.) I had read the mainstream reviews which had trashed it, and the nerd reviews which had loved it, and since it was a Guillermo del Toro movie it was on my to watch list. I thought I would have to wait for the Blu-ray since going out now means finding a babysitter.

I am so happy I got to see this.

The most basic look at the plot is easy. A rift to another dimension opens up under the Pacific Ocean. Big ass monsters (Kaiju) come out and start tearing the place up, one monster at a time, over several years. And since the things are damn hard to kill humans build big ass robots (Jaegers) with human pilots to kick monster ass.

If you’ve spent any time watching anime, or certain sections of Japanese cinema, you are probably familiar with the whole kaiju and mecha ideas. Indeed this is a loving homage to those works. If you have seen Neon Genesis Evangelion (at least the first few episodes) parts of the first act will feel familiar. However knowledge of such things is in no way needed to appreciate this film.

One of the key elements of Pacific Rim that differs from other many mecha works is the idea of two pilots per Jaeger, and The Drift. As explained in the backstory narration a single human brain fries out trying to work a Jaeger so two are needed, working in tandem. To accomplish this there is the Drift. A sort of computer triggered mind meld that allows two people to fight and control a Jaeger together. Not everyone can drift and not everyone can drift with everyone else. This means being a street brawler is as good as formal martial arts as long it’s effective and you can Drift.

Our hero Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam from Sons of Anarchy and Queer as Folk (UK)) loses his drift copilot early on and so is out of the Jaeger program. Several years pass. The Kaiju start getting bigger. The Jaeger start losing, and politicians decide to scrap Jaegers and just built a giant wall around all major coast lines (probably built by the lowest bidder).

The head of the Jaeger program, Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba), scrapes up the last four Jaegers, six months of funding, and a plan to put an end to the Kaiju war. This means he needs pilots and Raleigh Becket needs someone new to drift with.

Now there has already been about a million words of conflicting meta-analysis on Mako Mori (Rinko Kikuchi) and there will be a million more. I’ll let you go find it all yourself. I personally think she’s awesome. I don’t think her show of deference and respect to her commanding officer/father figure is a sign of weakness. Her ‘love story’ with Raleigh isn’t ‘this is the apocalypse, we just met, you’re hot, let’s have sex‘ it’s ‘this is the apocalypse, we just met, I can kick your ass, I want to pilot a giant robot and kick monster ass with you.‘ From Raleigh’s end it’s about the same. ‘It’s the apocalypse, we just met, you can wipe the floor with my ass if I blink at the wrong moment, let’s talk our boss into letting you pilot a giant robot with me so we can be bff’. (Art by Lynx with permission.)

The supporting cast are all good fun. Dr. Newton Geiszler (Charlie Day) and Dr. Hermann Gottlieb (Burn Gorman, the radioactive king of the weevils) are the mad scientist/mathematician who work out the plan to close the rift. Hannibal Chau (Ron Perlman) who takes his name from his “favorite historical figure” and his “second-favorite Szechuan restaurant in Brooklyn”, is a dealer in black market Kaiju parts and probably knows more about the creatures than the scientists. There is apparently an hour worth of back story on various supporting characters that got cut and there won’t be a director’s cut. All I can say is there better be at least an hour of deleted scenes on the blu-ray.

The visuals for this film are excellent but since it’s a Guillermo del Toro that’s to be expected. Each Jaeger is as unique as is each Kaiju. The Kaiju obviously come from the same mind that brought us Pan’s Labyrinth, but as they go ripping through the Golden Gate Bridge and the Sydney Opera House they bring to mind the monsters of Ishirō Honda and Ray Harryhausen, both of whom the film is dedicated to. There are times when the battles seem overly long, but they never feel long for the sake of being long. The Kaiju are bloody hard to kill. The first one needed a nuke to take down.

Oddly enough this isn’t a dark film. It could be. It could be a cynical, bleak, end of the world, darkly lit, work of standing despite total hopelessness. It’s not. It’s well lit for one. There is a sliver of hope that everyone is clinging to. There is a sense of ‘if we’re going down we’re going down fighting’! There are moments of humor. Idris Elba gives one of the best if shortest St. Crispin’s Day speeches in the last thirty years of cinema*. There’s a bit with a dog. Everyone loves a bit with a dog.

It’s not a perfect movie by a long shot. There’s that missing hour of backstory. Burn Gorman’s performance is a bit over the top, but it needed to be to stand up to Charlie Day’s frenetic performance. It doesn’t pass the Bechdel test (though I could write a very lengthy and controversial post on that). Max Martini, for as much as I love him, really could have used a dialog coach to help with the pretty awful Australian accent. And an unexplained bloody nose seems to be the late 20th/early 21st century equivalent of daintily coughing blood into a white hanky.

There are also a lot of unanswered questions, like what happened to New Zealand and other island countries that were practically sitting on top of the rift? Did they get abandoned by the rest of the world who were building giant walls and robots? Did they say screw it and build their own Jaeger? How badly does Drifting with your father or brother mess up your personal life? Why was the rift opened where it was and what’s going to prevent the opening of another? How exactly did Hannibal Chau manage that thing he does at the very end after the credits?** (Art by flatbear with permission.)

What this all boils down to is go see this movie if you haven’t already. If you have seen it go see it again. If you can’t go see it again go pre order the DVD and buy the novelization and comic books and action figures because we want the studios to make more Pacific Rim and (much) less of The Lone Ranger.

~
* I’m even putting it over William H. Macy’s Egg Salad Sandwich speech from Mystery Men

**There might be someone reading this who hasn’t seen it.

Posted in Film Reviews | 3 Comments

Only Lovers Left Alive (A Review)

I recently had the honor of being only the second audience to see Only Lovers Left Alive as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival at the lovely vintage Civic theater. It is a droll comedy of middle-aged marriage staring Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton. No, you’re not reading the wrong review.

Adam, played by Tom Hiddleston, and Eve, played by Tilda Swinton, have been married for a long time. Adam is living in the barren outskirts of Detroit (filmed in the barren outskirts of Detroit), where he is a completely reclused musician. He’s self-recording pieces that sound a bit like the 90’s Punk/Grunge transition but with a drop of 60’s Hendrix, and modern electric mixing. His only contacts with the outside world are Ian, played by Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the Star Trek reboots), who acquires for him vintage electric guitars from the 50’s and 60’s as well as pristine vinyl recordings, and Dr. Watson, played by Jeffrey Wright, who sells him ‘the good stuff’.

Eve, played by Tilda Swinton is living in Tangiers (filmed in Tangiers), in small rooms filled with beautiful old books and not much else. She spends time hanging out at a local café where she meets with an old friend who answers to the name Marlowe (played by John Hurt). He knows a ‘good French doctor’ who supplies them both with ‘the good stuff’.

While it’s never explained why they are living apart at the time they do talk, her on her shiny new iphone, he on a jury rigged setup between his laptop, remote, and nearly antique TV. When he admits he’s writing a lot of funeral music and bemoaning the state of civilization she decides it’s time to go to Detroit.

Together they are a nicely married couple. They have some rough moments, disagreements, but they also still dance in the living room to their favorite records, curl around each other in sleep, and praise each other’s work even when they won’t praise their own. When Eve’s party girl little sister, Ava, shows up from LA uninvited, unwanted, and unforgiving for her last visit Adam does his best to suck it up and tolerate her because that’s what spouses do with their in-laws.

Oh, and they’re vampires. There are no sparkles. There is no running off to hunt the moment there is darkness. Instead there are pillows pulled over heads and grumbles about sleeping in. There is in fact no hunting at all as most human blood now has toxins, hence the need to buy ‘the good stuff’, clean blood off doctors for wads of cash. While ages aren’t given it’s implied they are probably at least a thousand. That’s a long time to be in love.

They are not stuck in the dusty past like some classic vampires. Adam considers Tesla one of his heroes. Eve teases her husband for having a dressing gown that’s over two hundred. Some of their favorite songs are blues and jazz that is old to us and yesterday to them. The supernatural powers that we see are little more than some speed and an apparent ability to see the future in broad strokes. But it’s unclear if the precognition is actually a supernatural ability or if they are just old enough to understand the patters of human behavior.

Overall I would highly recommend this film. The first act pacing is a little slow but it lays the groundwork for the sweet, truthful, and often funny relationship the blooms as soon as Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are on screen together.

As for the cast Tilda Swinton and John Hurt are actors that could read the federal budget and still be good. With this scrip they are far better than good. Anton Yelchin is funny and unrecognizable with his long rock ‘n roll hair, and slightly stoned American accent. And Tom Hiddleston truly stands out in this. He invokes a 90’s Seattle musician world-weariness (actually earned in his case), but with a steady, honest, constant love for his wife that is plainly obvious to anyone at a glance. And if you only know him as Loki from the Marvel juggernauts you’ll really want to see him in this. Also look up The Hollow Crown mini-series. He was good in that too.

According to IMDb the next screening is in October in Taiwan as it’s doing the festival circuit but as it bounces around the globe do try to find it if it comes anywhere near your area.

Posted in Film Reviews | Leave a comment

Fandom, Friendship, and The Next Generation

(I know this is meant to be a blog about writing but if you follow my twitter, @adamariasoto, you’ll know the reason for the extended brain fade. This is the first attempt at putting fingers to keyboard in months and will probably be a little rambley and disjointed.)

I was not popular in school, and I’m not just talking high school, I was a social reject in kindergarten. I had the triple hit of too smart for my own good, coming from an obviously lower socioeconomic strata than my classmates, and my mother worked at my school. Social death. I wasn’t the least popular kid in school. That award went to a kid call Chris that even the teachers had a hard time being nice to. But I was the queen of the losers. However being unable to afford the cool clothes and being a general social reject had its advantages. I didn’t have to like the crap the cool kids liked. I could publicly denounce New Kids On The Block and not get less popular.

Oh, one other thing I had going against me was that I was a PBS baby. Commercial TV was not allowed (unless it was something my parents really liked). If you are a PBS baby you know the pain. You started kindergarten knowing the fibonacci sequence thanks to Square One Television but you couldn’t name a single character from Jem or G.I. Joe.

Our local PBS station at the time was KTEH San Jose and the scheduling staff was full of nerds and anglophiles. Decades before BBCAmerica they were showing Doctor Who, using Are You Being Served as evening filler, and were the first American station to air things like Neon Genesis Evangelion. And on Sundays they had Sunday Science Fiction Night where they showed Blake’s 7, The Prisoner with Patrick McGoohan, and Red Dwarf. *

I loved Red Dwarf. I also loved The Prisoner but it was a different kind of love. Red Dwarf spoke to me on some odd level. I could run around school calling people smeghead and not get in trouble for cussing, or even insults because no one really knew what it meant. I would watch it every Sunday when it was on and when they marathoned it for pledge drives I would watch it again. Even if that meant putting up with them begging for money between episodes. One year they even got Robert Llewellyn in the studio somehow, that was a big treat. I knew all the words to the theme song, could name all the episodes, quote tones of dialog, knew all about the actors long before the internet was available to the common person, and get behind the scenes footage on VHS tape, before I was ten. I was a fan. Red Dwarf was my fandom. It was my first real fandom. I don’t count Star Trek because my mother was a trekkie. I inherited that one. Red Dwarf was all mine.

Back to school. Fourth grade we get a new classmate. This was a rare occurrence as it was a smallish school, and some of us had been in classes together since we were three. A new classmate, a girl, especially one in jeans, t-shirts, and tennis shoes meant someone further down the social ladder than me. And I will fully admit I was no better than any other child and that meant I had a mean streak in me. But the new girl beat me to the punch and insulted my new haircut.** I told her something horrific about the school lunches, and I quickly had someone new of the list of people I didn’t like who also didn’t like me.

After a few months there was a standard class fieldtrip. Our school couldn’t afford busses (that’s another story there) so PTA mothers were asked to drive, and having no one who wanted to be my fieldtrip buddy I got stuck in a back seat with the new girl. The drive to Año Nuevo to watch sea elephants mate was almost certainly filled with snarking and insults. For the drive back we were told to find something we actually liked to talk about so I bring out the obscure, no one has ever heard of it, British sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf.

What I did not know was new girl’s dad was from England, and there is nothing more English than an Englishman not living in England. New girl knew Red Dwarf and I suddenly had a new best friend. And that is not even a remote exaggeration. Within seconds we were singing the theme song, talking about favorite episodes, and doing lines. She did a good Cat and my Holly wasn’t half bad. Her dad was from Liverpool so her Lister was excellent, and I managed a pretty good Rimmer. She agreed that Martina, Simone, and Kelsey were smegheads, and we were soon sitting together at lunch every day.***

I had made a friend. What’s more I had made my first fandom friend. Now fandom friends are wonderful and important and I’ve made many over the years, but it’s easy to find someone who is into Star Trek or Doctor Who. Being in the fourth grade and being made to sit next to someone, who just moved from rural Washington State, who just happens to know and love the same show obscure British show, which only had a couple of dozen episodes, and had only ever aired a handful of place, that was fate, destiny , kismet. The odds on that are simply stupidly long.

Over the years we created more common ground for each other even as our lives took very different paths. She got tattoos and piercings, went to Germany, learned to fire juggle, and smoked some pot. I got depressed and wore too much mismatched black, went to Alaska, took SSRIs, and smoked pot once. We mostly communicate by facebook now, and every so often an update via our mothers, but never once have I thought of her as anything but one of my best friends.

Now jump forward almost twenty five years from the backseat of that sensible family sedan. She’s living in the San Francisco Bay Area running a punk accordion shop with her wife.**** I’m living in New Zealand with my partner of seven years (eight in a few days), and working in the grubby end of the technology department of a TV station, and I’m pregnant.

The length, breadth, and depth of the baby names lists was epic and my partner and I could agree on nothing. Every name was completely unsuitable to one of us.***** We went down top 100 list and top 500 lists. We pulled up weird names, and painfully common names. Before we knew the gender the kid was code named Wednesday or Pugsley and we were having such a hard time picking names there was a risk of Wednesday or Pugsley ending up on the birth certificate. When we were asked if we wanted to know the gender we said yes just because it would knock half the names off our lists (and I don’t like surprises).

Finally, finely we hit the name of my old dear friend and was it acceptable to both of us. We grabbed onto it with both hands and prayed it was a girl because the only boy’s name I liked was Tristan and my partner said no to that one.

I won’t go into the details of the birth but let’s just say there is no shame in an epidural, and at the end of it they laid a lovely little girl on my chest who looked like she fitted the pre-chosen name.

Five days later I get out of the hospital we get to take our baby home. We put her in the crib in the living room (we have a one bedroom apartment), wait until she’s asleep, then with the kind of brain dead exhaustion that only new parents truly understand we flip on the TV. My partner, having no idea of how I met his daughter’s namesake, flipped on Red Dwarf. This isn’t regular watching for us and I have no idea what prompted him to pick it but we got through series IV before we managed to pry ourselves up and boil some eggs for dinner.

Now there is a theory that human brains can retain everything they are exposed to. Even things happening around them while they sleep. If this holds true then my child’s first media exposure in her home involved a bread obsessed talking toaster, a blob with a crush on an android, a wax droid Caligula threatening someone with a bucket of soapy frogs, and the knowledge that larger is the only thing that can kill a vindaloo. And I have no guilt for this, at all. There are far worse things that could be filtering into her young mind, like The Wiggles, or just about any reality TV. And if the theories of total recall hold then she also already knows that:

Wesley Crusher has about as much game as Arnold Rimmer, but that Wheaton’s Law isn’t a bad one to live your life by.

Abed is a shaman, and soup is better.

Don Draper is not a good role model (my partner’s fault).

French rugby sucks this season (my fault).

The women of her family have vastly differing opinions on Matt Smith’s tenure as The Doctor.

Bilbo is fussy but very brave (and Thorin is a bit of a dick).

Frodo is scared but willing to do what needs to be done (and casting Sean Bean in anything is an instant spoiler).

She will be a pitcher for the Oakland A’s (or shortstop, her choice).

‘As you wish’ means ‘I love you’ (and there’s nothing better than a mutton, lettuce, and tomato sandwich).

Ronald D. Moore was Star Trek’s best writer since D. C. Fontana.

Christopher Tietjens is a sad sorry bastard who just refuses to get out of the way on the oncoming train of change.

Galaxy Quest is one of the better Star Trek movies out there.

And

Joss Whedon will kill everything you love if you let him.

I know there is a chance that my daughter could end up a queen bee popular girl who wants to wear the coolest clothes, listen to top 20 music, and quite possibly just hate my guts. Despite that risk I don’t think a solid grounding in a bit of fandom is a bad thing for her. Especially the ones that make you look up and think grander thoughts than most. And considering the overall geek level of her parents I’m sure she’ll inherit some fandoms, and find her own. Hopefully she’ll make fandom friends that she’ll get to go white water rafting with, or stay up too late and cry in front of, and fight with, and make up with, because fandom friends are the best, and no matter how distant and separate your lives become you’ll always have that one thing in common.

^^^^^^^

*The first autograph I ever got (or rather begged my mom to go get for me) was from the Scott Apel who did the pre and post episode analysis for The Prisoner every Sunday. I spotted him at my first Star Trek convention. I don’t know what surprised him more, that someone recognized him, that someone wanted his autograph, or that my mother let her eight year old watch The Prisoner.

**We are talking late 80’s at this point and my mother had the idea that I should have bangs despite having very curly hair and a round face. It was a haircut worthy of insult but still…

***Yes I am so petty I can remember the name of the popular girls in fourth grade.

****And you could now probably track her down with a google search.

*****No names of people we know. No names from Jane Austen novels. No names from Lost. A name I can remember how to spell even while tired…

Posted in geekness | Leave a comment

Whistle Blowing: What’s Next?

First I want to start with a thank you. In no way was I expecting the vast response Whistle Blowing received. As an author with only one novella and a couple of shorts out there I thought maybe ten people would read it. 2,800 downloads later and I’m still in shock at the raw number of people who have read, reviewed (good and bad), and left ratings. So thank you all for that.

As for what happens next to our heroes I feel I should first give a little background into the story. Whistle Blowing was never meant to be what it became. I saw the prompt and the pretty picture and thought I could take three weeks off from my domestic romance novel, write 20 thousand words of hurt/comfort, and call it good. You would think that by my age I would know myself better than that.

The first thing that hit my word count was the first aid. My mother teaches first responder classes for the Red Cross and is a certified EMT. And even though she will never read my work I couldn’t get her voice out of my head enough to half ass the first aid. My first reader, who was once trampled by a horse, also stepped on any ideas of a rapid, miraculous, recovery.

The second problem I ran into came from the prompt itself.

“Said they’d kill him if they found him…”

My brain wanted to know who ‘they’ were, followed by why ‘they’ did what they did, and what was going to be done about it. So instead of focusing on kissing the pretty boy better Ian Fleming and Michael Bay went and had a strange, unholy, lovechild in the back on my mind. By the time three weeks turned into three months I just wanted the damn thing done. If you think the current ending was abrupt and a little unsatisfying the idea I had to just kill everyone on the last page would have really pissed you off. And that was one of the least bad of a lot of bad ideas. I ended it where I did because if I hadn’t it would have run twice as long and probably taken a solid year.

So, do I have any idea of what happens next? Yes, several. Daren will certainly face down his family. I have an image of a scene like Prince Hamlet returning after he was supposedly executed. Daren and Sebastian find Richard (not sure how). Richard will have a reunion with Daren’s mom (this scene in the clearest in my mind). Agent Kim is so out of a job but Daren is going to need a good in house auditor for a while. Members of Daren’s family will go to jail. And Daren and Sebastian will hit some rough spots as Daren has to dive back into the world that made him an awful little brat to begin with, a world Sebastian is completely unfamiliar with. There will be a positive ending however just because I’m that kind of writer.

Those are just the top level ideas but I do have a couple of problems before I begin. One big one is a research problem. I have no idea how international finance works or how a family like Daren’s would handle their money. I can treat shock and have set my own bones (you want me on your side with the zombie apocalypse hits), but I know nothing about how large businesses and old money works and wouldn’t begin to know where to start looking.

My second problem is one of time commitments. I have the first draft of a 120,000 word novel done, edited, and just waiting for me to start the second draft. I have several people asking for a follow up to my western novella and they are willing to pay for it. I have a strong point by point outline for a novel about a demisexual NSA agent that I really want to start working on. Plus ideas for various short stories. I really do want to write a sequel to Whistle Blowing because I am quite fond of the characters and there is a lot more exploring to be done with them but there is the question of where to put the project on my to do list.

I should also confess at this point that I currently have a life form growing in me. I’m told that when it claws its way from my abdomen later this year that it will be cute and I will love it but right now I’m more concerned about my five year plan to become a professional writer being put off by five years, finding a house in one of the least affordable housing markets in the developed world*, and the fact that on the scans the thing looks more like Predator and I’m wondering if I should be investing in a flamethrower.

So to sum up:
Yes I want to write a sequel to Whistle Blowing.

Yes I have a few ideas about what it should contain.

No I don’t have any idea when it’s going to happen, but if you want to tell yourself that Daren and Sebastian fight the good fight, have some ups and downs, and come out the other side stronger, better, and happy together go for it because that’s what I want to write.

And again, thank you all for your feedback and encouragement.

Ada Maria Soto

*Not kidding. If anyone knows a non-sleazy real estate agent in the greater Auckland area willing to work with a tight budget I’d love to be introduced.

Posted in writing | Tagged | 2 Comments

Films You Probably Didn’t See, Didn’t Know Were Out, Or Just Haven’t Gotten Around To Yet

New Zealand doesn’t always get first run films. We’ll get the big ones like Avengers or the new Pixar, but anything expected to make less than a million dollars in its first weekend we get months late or not at all. Auckland makes up for this by having film festivals. Lots of them. Then New Zealand International Film Festival runs for nearly a month, takes over five theaters in the city, shows over a hundred films, and eats a certain amount of my life ever year. On top of this are small festivals, often sponsored by local embassies or activist groups. Plus there’s the Auckland Film Society. The result is over the year I see a lot of random films. Some good, some okay, some really awful. These are some short reviews from this last year’s festivals plus some random ones I happened to catch.

Bernie
It’s always nice to see Jack Black playing something other than Jack Black. In this he plays the title character of Bernie, the most beloved man in a little East Texas town. An assistant funeral director he makes every funeral a time of joy and remembrance. He supports the arts, sings in the church choir, raises money for charities, and is kind to all the sweet little old widowed ladies of the town. Everyone knows Bernie and everyone loves him. So when he murders the most loathed woman in town, played by Shirley MacLaine, and confesses to it, the local DA, played by Matthew McConaughey, realizes he’ll have a hard time getting a conviction, despite the confession, because Bernie is so loved and his victim was so hated, even by her own family.

Done is a sudo documentary style, and based on a true story, the film is intercut with interviews of the actual towns people. This is done so seamlessly that the only way of telling the difference between the actors and the real folk is that you recognize the actors.

Jack Black does a wonderful job of playing this loved, if slightly strange little man, but the funniest bits come from the town people just being themselves reminiscing on Bernie.

I believe this got a release in some cities and if it wasn’t in a theater near you go look for it on DVD. It is worth a watch.

The Angel’s Share
The duo of Paul Laverty and Ken Loach are not known for making the most upbeat films which makes The Angel’s Share a nice surprise. There is a reasonable amount of gritty realism and some violence but in the end it’s a rather upbeat and quirky heist movie.

When nineteen year old Robbie hears about the birth of his first child while on court ordered community service his supervisor lets him celebrate with a shot of whisky. Really good whisky. Like someone with a nose for fine wine Robbie discovers he has a real talent for recognizing and judging fine whisky. When he hears about the upcoming sale of the world’s rarest cask of whisky he sees an opportunity to get enough money to get his new son and girlfriend out of the cycle of poverty and violence. And possibly land a real job in the process.

Like any good heist movie the ‘victims’ are such twats and the ‘criminals’ so sympathetic that you are really hoping they get away with it. A very fun film. Certainly worth seeing.

Neil Young Journeys
It’s a lovely Neil Young concert film shot at Toronto’s Massey Hall. It covers some of his best music and is intercut with him touring through the empty fields and redeveloped streets that had once made up his childhood.

This has a 5.4 on IMDb and a 90% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes. If you like Neil Young go see it. If you don’t like Neil Young don’t go see it. And keep in mind he’s not getting any younger so there’s not likely to be much more from him.*

Killer Joe
Matthew McConaughey is going through a phase where he does not want to play Matthew McConaughey. This movie exemplifies this. It’s a story about pure Texan trailer trash who, in order to get out of debt, take out a hit on their own mother for the insurance money. They hire a hit man/police detective called Killer Joe played by Matthew McConaughey.

When the family can’t afford the down payment Joe agrees to take the pretty, teenaged, virginal, and probably a little mentally disabled, daughter as collateral.

This movie earns its NC-17 rating for being violent, sexual, and having the most disturbing use for a piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken ever. I personally had a great time in it but it won’t be to everyone’s taste. And you may never order a KFC drumstick again.

Cesare deve morire (Ceasar Must Die)
This is an interesting one. It’s about a group of inmates in a maximum security Italian prison getting ready to do a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.

It is actually filmed in the prison with in inmates cast in the show. The camera follows their rehearsal and preparation though it flows between real rehearsals and staged moments. Scenes from the play are acted out in the exercise yard or between the cells. The casting is interesting (and we witness the casting process) with a member of the mob and an obvious heavy hitter cast as Ceasar.

Perhaps a docudrama or a meta film it follows prisoners stretching their minds and personalities outside of themselves and their walls, and yet we and they know that once the curtain goes down their world will shrink back down to their cells.

I found it interesting, engaging, and worth seeing.

The Cabin in the Woods
In my mind someone wrote a pretentious film school thesis about archetypes and rituals in modern American horror films.** Then Joss Whedon, and Drew Goddard found the thesis and realized they could make a funny as shit movie out of it.

I won’t give out spoilers, and even talking about the basic plot is a kind of spoiler, but let’s just say there is a scene with Bradley Whitford with a machine gun. Thinking back on West Wing I never realized how much I wanted to see Josh with a machine gun.

Go see this movie, in a theater if at all possible.

Moonrise Kingdom
This is a Wes Anderson film. If you don’t like Wes Anderson films don’t go see it. If you do like Wes Anderson, or you’re at least willing to give him a try, go see it. It takes place in the 1960’s on a tiny island off the cost of New England, where a young boy and girl, hardly in their teens, decide they’re in love and run away into the forests.

Since large quantities of it are set outside there’s less of the cutaway dollhouse look from previous Wes Anderson films. There is also slightly less in the way of daddy issues. The child actors, which include the young lovers and a small army of scouts, all give solid performances. And the leads are kids to keep an eye on.

Another thing I liked about the film is the fact that I did not recognize many of the big name actors right away. It took at least two scenes before I realized the pathetically in love police captain was Bruce Willis, and I didn’t catch Tilda Swinton as the social worker until the credits.

Under Wes Anderson films I would rank this better than Darjeeling Limited (which I liked) and not quite as good as The Life Aquatic.

Foust (2011)
I need to start this by confessing that I fell asleep about 45 minutes in, but don’t let that keep you away from this film. I’d had two hours of sleep, it was in the middle of the day, I was in one of those nice velvet seats in the middle of the Civic***, and it is subtitled, which when you’re dyslexic takes that little bit of extra brain power I just didn’t have that day. I woke up sporadically throughout and pulled myself awake for the last half hour.

Made by Aleksandr Sokurov who did Russian Ark (which I review down the page), the detail in the visuals is stunning if not always pretty. The first image is that of a dead body sliced open and being studied by Foust in his attempt to understand science in a time when medicine looks more like torture.

If you know the story of Foust you know the plot but this is worth a watch (if you’ve got a spare two and a half hours) for Johannes Zeiler’s portrait of a man with a lust first for knowledge and frustrated at a world which does not value such things. Even at the end where he is wandering a wilderness, populated by dead soldiers, he is looking for the science behind bubbling mud pools and insists on pushing on to explore.

The Shining
The New Zealand International Film Festival got a clean print of The Shining and showed it on the big Civic screen. There are a million and one reviews of The Shining and you’ve probably already seen it but if you ever get a chance to see it on a big screen go for it. It was awesome.

On The Road (2012)
This is a film that dances the line between realism and nostalgia. In a way the novel On The Road is a nostalgia piece glorifying a set of memories and read at a certain age you want to believe that you could go out and wander the wild roads of America. The film invokes the same wanderlust desire but also has enough freezing nights, blistering hot days, and screwed up broken hearts to keep you at home.

With free love, drugs, and jazz these kids were doing the 60’s before it all went mainstream. The original hipsters. Sam Riley’s portrait of Sal Paradise, the young struggling writer, is reasonably layered as he trails along behind the louder, flasher, more insane Dean Moriarty, while at the same time trying to keep just enough reality in his life that he can write it all down. Garrett Hedlund’s Dean Moriarty is flashing madness. Half the time you want to be him, the other half of the time you want to absolutely throttle him for being a selfish, self-obsessed, bastard. And Kristen Stewart is quite good as Marylou. You are able to forget she’s in those movies which I bet is half the reason she took the part.

The film runs a little long and it weaves about, but so does the book. It’s a halfway decent adaptation but like all books into movies it’s best just to consider it on its own merits.

No
This is an interesting one.

Set against Chile’s 1988 referendum, when after intense international pressure the people are allowed to vote; Yes, keep Augusto Pinochet in power. No, give real democracy a try. Both sides are granted 15 minutes of TV a night to state their cases in the run up to the vote.

Enter advertising executive René Saavedra, played by Gael García Bernal. Not particularly political but not Mad Men wild, he has a young son, a nice suburban house, and rides a skateboard to work, where he works out how to sell soda pop and microwave ovens. An old friend of the family asks him to help out on the No campaign. The activists, who have fought, been tortured, and imprisoned want to spend the 15 minutes reminding people of disappearances and secret police. René believes the campaign needs a bright logo that will look good on t-shirts and a catchy song to go with it****.

It would be easy to take this film to an intensely emotional, very dark place, but instead it was done with subtlety and even a bit of humor.

At a time when most of us would rather stick a fork in our eye than watch another political ad this is a movie about people who fought and died for the right to have a political ad and then need to figure out what to do with it.

Blackmail (1929) – Hitchcock
One of Hitchcock’s earlier films it is silent but visually already a very Hitchcock film. It’s a story about cheating wives, attempted rape, murder, and of course, blackmail. If you’re into Hitchcock but haven’t seen his silent work try to find this. It’s a great example of where his style started.

I had the luck of seeing this with The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra providing a live score. It’s something they do every year for a silent film as part of the festival. If you happen to be in Auckland at that time of year try to get tickets. It’s a very cool experience.

The Color Wheel
Never say I’m not willing to take one for the team. The Color Wheel is a truly awful movie. Let’s start with the simple fact that the title has nothing to do with the movie, which was shot in black and white for an unknown and almost certainly completely pointless reason. A ‘slacker road trip’ film, I can buy the idea that the filmmakers were trying to capture some Clerks like magic and failed miserably. It’s the story of a brother and sister on a road trip, played by the couple who made the thing, which gives it a very weird vibe off the bat. The dialog is all improvised, which can be a good thing if the people doing the improvising have talent. This couple does not. If you’ve ever been stuck on a long car ride with people who think they’re witty and won’t stop bickering until you have the urge to put an icepick into someone’s head (possibly your own) then you have experienced this film. The big Shock! Twist! ending is so unmotivated, and the characters are so unlikeable, that it feels painfully forced and falls flat. And if you haven’t walked out of the theater by that point in a vain hope that it might get better you will be thoroughly disappointed. Stay home and watch reruns of the Simpsons instead of subjecting yourself to this mess.

Hamlet (1921)
The is a gorgeous and interesting take on the classic story. It starts with the idea that Hamlet was born a girl but in order to keep the family on the throne upon her birth the people are told she is a boy and she is forced to live her life that way. She goes off to school and falls in love with Horatio, who in turn falls in love with Ophelia, and she still has to deal with her father’s murder and all of that.

With some very subtle shifts Asta Nielsen is able to shift between a plain, young man, and a softly feminine young woman. I’m sure this is a very important film as far as gender studies go and all of that but it’s also just a good movie with some pretty good acting and far more subtlety than one expects from silent films of the day.

Bir zamanlar Anadolu’da (Once Upon A Time in Anatolia)
There are certain universals in cop movies. This one starts out with a couple of cops, late at night, driving out to a crime scene and they are talking about yogurt. Where to get the best, how their mothers used to make it, why low fat yogurt is just wrong. Replace yogurt with donuts/pizza/kebabs, and you can have a hundred other cop movies.

This one is about a group of police, a local prosecutor, and a doctor driving out onto the Anatolian steppes, late at night to find a body. They have the problem that the man who confessed to the crime was a little out of it at the time and can’t fully remember where he dumped it.

As the night stretches on the story becomes more about the personal lives and relationships of the officers on this strange quest.

Made it Turkey in 2011 it shows the clash between the modern and the old way. When one of the cops has enough and tries to rough up the suspect he is told to stop because they won’t get into the EU if they keep doing things like that. When they find the body they have new digital cameras and laptops to document the scene but they forget the body bag, the van doesn’t show up, and they have to put the body in the trunk of a car that looks like it’s on its last legs.

It’s an interesting movie. A bit slow paced at times and really that last half hour wasn’t exactly needed but if it shows up in a local festival, and you have the time, and you have a thing for cop movies, it’s worth a shot.

Russian Ark
Directed by Aleksandr Sokurov this is a 99 minute film done in one moving shot (they got it on the fourth take). Through the eyes of an amnesiac strange and a 19th century French aristocrat this film flows through the Russian State Hermitage Museum and 200 years of Russian history. In one room Catherine the Great is throwing a ball and in the next room a winter in WWII blows through broken windows. Each room and each time is different and perfect down to the tiniest detail. This film is amazing on a technical level, historical level, and a ‘shit that’s really cool’ level.

Ruby Sparks
I know this had a reasonably wide release but still a movie worth reviewing. It centers around a young Woody Allan type writer, played by Paul Dano, who produced one great novel at 19 then hit a decade worth of writers block. When his therapist challenges him to write just one page it takes off and he beings writing about an amazing girl, Ruby Sparks played by Zoe Kazan. And he believes he has his next novel until Ruby Sparks appears, flesh, blood, and real in his home. What’s a guy with a string of failed relationships to do but leap at the most wonderful woman he created. But when she starts becoming a bit too human, and perhaps doesn’t love him as much as he would want, the temptation to pull out his typewriter and start changing her becomes strong.

This is a romance of sorts that is both sweet, and creepy, and towards the end Paul Dano really gets his creep on. It’s not a chick flick, not a first date movie (maybe a five year date movie), in some moments the characters are sympathetic and at other times they’re really not. It’s a hard film to pin down but I enjoyed it both for Paul Dano’s and Zoe Kazan’s performances.

^^^^^^^

*Though I have to say one of the most memorable parts of the screening was at the beginning when the sound was a little off. Half the audience yelled ‘turn it up’ the other half yelled ‘turn it down’. They turned it up.

**I went to film school, I have a masters degree, I feel no shame in ragging on film school people.

***If you’ve seen Peter Jackson’s King Kong you’ve seen the inside of the Civic theater. There was no CGI prior to Kong tearing it up. That’s what it looks like. Most of the year it’s used for the ballet and musicals but during the film festival they drop the (very) big screen and use it as it was intended. This year they installed good digital projectors and a new sound system. If you’re ever in Auckland try to get inside even just for a tour.

**** And you will walk out of the theater with that song stuck in your head even if you don’t know a word of Spanish.

Posted in Film Reviews | Tagged | Leave a comment

Whistle Blowing – Now Avalible FREE

My first novel is now available for FREE in various eReader formats through Goodreads.

Here

Whistle Blowing
Former Navy medic Sebastian Thompson has classic good looks and a true blue heart. But that doesn’t mean he has the confidence to make a move on the gorgeous young blond who just breezed in to the Blue Dragon Bar. Fate will play its hand, anyway. Finding the same young blond beaten to the edge of death, terrified of a hospital, Sebastian has to choose – walk away, or try to save a life.

This one chance encounter will lead Sebastian into a web of danger. Who is the enemy and who is a friend? Who will he trust when everyone has a reason to lie? How far will he go, and what will it cost, to do the right thing?

Sample

Sebastian watched Daren sleep for a time from the old leather executive chair a roommate had found by the side of the road. It had somehow ended up in his room. Daren moved a little in his sleep but didn’t wake up. Sebastian got up and grabbed a blank notebook from his little milk-crate bookshelf. He opened it to the first page and wrote neatly across the top:

NAME: Daren SEX: M AGE: 19 BLOOD TYPE: O ALLERGIES: Shrimp

INITIAL ASSESSMENT AND TREATMENTS:

Sebastian wrote out everything he had observed and done as clinically as possible, being sure to note several times Daren’s refusal to have proper medical attention or police involvement. After filling two pages with tidy notations, he grabbed his sphygmomanometer and stethoscope again.

Daren groaned a bit as the blood pressure cuff inflated, but he stayed mostly asleep. Sebastian was relieved to see the results were up a few points, but it was still dangerously low. He made a note of it in the notebook.

His eyes fell on the ruined jacked he’d tossed aside. He was pretty sure you couldn’t wash blood out of suede. He grabbed it off the floor and started rummaging through the pockets. In an inner pocket, he found a wad of hundreds: maybe seven or eight grand. In an outer pocket, he found an EpiPen and five keys on a small wire ring, but they didn’t look like house or car keys; they were too small. He also found a wallet. It was of thick expensive leather and had the logo of Dolce&Gabbana on it. Inside was more cash, some of the notes new and some old and crumpled. It lent a bit of weight to his high-end rent boy theory. Sebastian figured there was at least three grand in the wallet. There was also an ID for Mr. Jeff Smith who was twenty-two and, except for being blond, looked nothing like Daren.

Sebastian peeked into the little pockets of the wallet looking for anything else. Smushed into an empty credit card holder was a business card with the seal of the FBI on it. Sebastian held it up to the light, looking for embossing or water marks. It seemed real and was for an Agent Joseph Kim. An official number was on the front, and a second number was handwritten neatly on the back. Maybe someone was trying to kill Jeff ‘Daren’ Smith. But they’d certainly had the opportunity to do it that night. They got 80% there; why not finish the job? Sebastian entered both numbers into his phone before shoving the card back in the wallet. He stuck the wallet, keys and EpiPen on his nightstand and hung the coat on the closet door even as the little voice in his head told him he should have stayed at home and watched the West Wing marathon. He set his phone to go off in an hour so he could take another blood pressure reading then settled into the chair and tried to take a nap.

****

Posted in writing | Tagged | 2 Comments

Six Sentence Sunday (Whistle Blowing) 4

For Six Sentence Sunday. This is from Whistle Blowing which will be coming soon, for free, as part of the Love is Always Write anthology. It’s a story about family loyalty, corporate greed, government corruption, and who you trust when you can’t trust anyone.

Daren’s past is catching up and his future is uncertain.

“I was trying to picture my mother, the way she looked when I was little, but I just can’t seem to. I just keep remembering the last time I saw her. I don’t know how much valium she was on but she could barely focus her eyes. And her skin looked kinda stretched, and she had makeup caked on her face. She never used to wear makeup. Not lots of it.

And someone has given this a rating on Goodreads before it has even been released. :-/

Posted in writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Six Sentence Sunday (Whistle Blowing) 3

For Six Sentence Sunday. This is from Whistle Blowing which will be coming soon, for free, as part of the Love is Always Write anthology. It’s a story about family loyalty, corporate greed, government corruption, and who you trust when you can’t trust anyone.

Sebastian, an ex-Navy medic is tells Daren, who’s a bit nihilistic, about the first death he ever witnessed.

“By that point, I think he realized how bad it was, and he was just crying. We got to sick bay, and they were moving him onto a proper bed when someone bumped into something. The metal moved, and it must have cut an artery because suddenly blood just started boiling up between my fingers. I pressed down, and they pulled the metal out so they could try to get inside him, but he’d lost too much blood already, most of it all over me. He was gone in seconds, his eyes wide open. That was the first death I saw.”

Posted in writing | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Six Sentence Sunday (Whistle Blowing) 2

For Six Sentence Sunday. This is from Whistle Blowing which will be coming soon, for free, as part of the Love is Always Write anthology. It’s a story about family loyalty, corporate greed, government corruption, and who you trust when you can’t trust anyone.

Sebastian has found Daren on the floor of the men’s room begging not to be taken to a hospital because people were trying to kill him. Lucky for him Sebastian was a medic in the Navy.

Daren twitched and jerked in pain, but Sebastian worked quickly. As he worked, he looked over the bloody mess that was this boy and started thinking about all the stuff he wished he had at his disposal. A c-collar, a back board, pressure bandages, latex gloves. Especially gloves. Unfortunately the only latex he had on him was in the form of a pre-lubed condom. Not helpful in this situation.

Posted in writing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Death Is A Lonely Business: The Bradbury Novel that Told Me I Could Maybe Write, and No One Else Seems to Have Read or at Least Mentioned Recently

In the past few days the stories of Bradbury’s influence have been coming fast and thick from writers, readers, innovators, and politicians. He is part of the great group subconscious of the world, that is not in doubt. And people have been talking about his books of course, and how those books influenced their lives. Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, The Illustrated Man, Dandelion Wine, Something Wicked This Way Comes. All the big names in his cannon.

I honestly can’t say when I read my first Bradbury story. It was probably something from The Martian Chronicles, and I was probably seven or eight. Young enough not to know that Mars didn’t really have ancient canals. Young enough to be horribly disappointed when the pictures from the surface of Mars came back without towering cities of crystal. I read all his stories of the red world. I think my favorites actually came from The Illustrated Man. The first short film script I ever wrote was a direct homage to those stories.

But for as much as those books inspired imaginations across the world only one truly changed my thoughts on writing and possibly slid the idea that I could write subtly into the back of my mind.

When I was perhaps thirteen, maybe fourteen (we were already in the new house, I remember that), my father returned from an expedition to a used bookstore with a hardbound book baring the title Death is a Lonely Business by one of my favorite authors. From the cover glass eyes stared at me, and inside it had a fake Bradbury signature made out to someone I didn’t know. My father told me it wasn’t his usual stuff. It was a murder mystery. My father has always been one for the mysteries and thrillers. His bookshelf was always lined with Dashiell Hammett, John le Carré, and Arthur Conan Doyle. He could recite every word of Bogart’s Maltese Falcon. Being antisocial, insomniatic, and willing to read anything I finished the book in one night.

It opened with an unnamed young writer, obviously some form of Bradbury himself, riding the old Red Line trolley through a bleak, rain drenched, Venice California in 1949. As he rides through the pounding rain a drunk comes into the car and sits behind the young writer. The drunk moans and mumbles and says those words. “Death is a Lonely Business.”

This opening I understood. I’m an urban child. I grew up with the BART train rolling by less than a block from my bedroom window. I knew about drunks on trains and buses late at night. I knew just as the author did to hold still, they are attracted to movement. Don’t make eye contact, in case they take it as an invitation. Don’t look, in case you see something you don’t want to. But there are two things you can’t block out, the sound and the smell. Drunken curses to people who aren’t there. Schizophrenic rants to God, with no obvious replies coming. And the smell of beer, piss, vomit, and dirt. The knowledge that death would probably smell better. All this I understood, whereas Bradbury’s late autumn, Midwest, small town days were as foreign to me as the canals of Mars. And I had greater belief in his Martians than in parents who told their children to go and play and not come back until dark.

Within a couple of pages of the drunken encounter Bradbury gives up the first body. Someone shoved into a lion cage that was half submerged in scummy canal water.

As accidents occur, and people die of fright, or age, the unnamed writer with his writers imagination believes they are victims of murder. And as he tries to bang out little tales of terror that will net him 40 dollars a sale he also collects people around him, and around the newly dead, living on the crumbling Venice pleasure pier for his stories. Each person Bradbury snatches up and gives to us in a handful of words, in that lovely impressionistic style he has. Elmo Crumley, the detective who has grown his own Garden of Eden and has a half-finished novel in his desk drawer. Constance Rattigan, the silent movie star who keeps vampire hours and swims in the ocean with the seals and sharks. And Fannie Florianna, the 400 pound soprano and queen of an old tenement house.

Of course the killer is collecting the same people for different reasons and calling them the Lonelies.

I have always loved the murder mystery especially in the Hammett style, but it was Bradbury speaking as a writer that worked its way inside my brain. There were words to himself as a struggling young man. He was comfortably into his 60’s and could tell himself, through literary time travel, that things would work out if he could survive those fogy impoverished years. There was also the advice to Crumley, and every other soul with a day job and a half-finished novel. The words could and would come if you kept at it, if you really wanted it. For some it was easier, others harder, but the words were there. If you weren’t one of the Lonelies and on the list of some late night killer. But the most important thing for me was the Talking Box.

I did a final sermon on Miss Birdsong, and a page about the glass eyes, and took all these pages and put them in my Talking Box. That was the box I kept by my typewriter where my ideas lay and spoke to me early mornings to tell me where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do. I lay half-asleep, listening, and then got up and went to help them, with my typewriter, to go where they most needed to go to do some special wild thing; so my stories got written. Sometimes it was a dog that needed to dig a graveyard. Sometimes it was a time machine that had to go backward. Sometimes it was a man with green wings who had to fly at night lest he be seen. Sometimes it was me, missing Peg in my tombstone bed.

I didn’t know I wanted to write when I read this book. I didn’t know if I wanted to do anything except be left alone in my fortress of books with my collection of broken things. But the idea of the Talking Box stuck in my head. The idea that you didn’t need a full idea. That stories and novels didn’t erupt fully formed in the minds of even the greats. That the stories I loved could be stitched together out of bits and pieces of ideas and people who brushed against your life. As someone who wouldn’t throw out puzzles with missing pieces and collected my mother’s broken crystal this idea appealed.

When I finally got to university I was studying theatre. I was still clinging to the grand illusion that I could act, or maybe direct (I still know I can direct), but the year before I had started writing bits of plays for drama class and collecting descriptions of odd people I knew. It wasn’t long before I got tired of having my history essays scrambled in with my half formed plays and bits of angst ridden fanfic. Being a modern child I liked a tidy file structure so I created a new file, named it My Writing and dumped everything original in there. By the next day it was My Original Work. By day three the file was called Talking Box. It still is. In every computer I’ve ever owned my copy of Word opens automatically to my Talking Box. The shortcut sits on my desktop. And while it contains some completed works it is also filed with snippets, random pages from half formed novels, character sketches. There are even some completely blank documents that just have a title that I’m sure meant something brilliant at the time I created them.

So out of this certainly egotistical, adolescent whim of file naming for the last thirteen years every time I have sat down to write for at least a second Bradbury leaps into my mind. When I stare at blank pages trying to form new worlds his golden eyed Martians stare back at me. When I have good days and my fingers are flying over the keys with quite clicks faster than I can think I have an image of an ‘unoiled 1934 Underwood Standard typewriter… as big as a player piano and as loud as wooden clogs on a carpetless floor’. That typewriter produced story after amazing story and I pray to capture just a drop of the wonder that spilled from that machine. And on days when nothing comes and the curser blinks at me on a white page, like Bradbury’s unnamed young writer, I pull someone from the depths of my Talking Box and do my best to figure out where they want to go and what they need to do.

Posted in writing | Tagged | 4 Comments