tom moody

Archive for the ‘films’ Category

belter history

The cable channel formerly known as the Science Fiction Channel has a new series, The Expanse, which is pretty adroitly done, despite overuse of the trope of "blowing people away" (via pistol, railgun, or airlock), which occurs with as much regularity and emotional impact as a Moe/Curly face slap. The series adapts books by two sf late colonizers writing under the name James S.A. Corey. When it's time to borrow, borrow from the best, and the Coreys owe a large debt to earlier writers for their conception of "the Belt" (as in, asteroids) and Belters.

Larry Niven used "Belter" in the '60s, mostly in short stories in his "Known Space" series. Wikipedia's summation:

The Sol Belt possesses an abundance of valuable ores, which are easily accessible due to the low to negligible gravity of the rocks containing them. Originally a harsh frontier under U.N. control,[citation needed] the Belt declared independence after creating Confinement Asteroid, a habitat with spin gravity that permitted safe gestation of children, and Farmer's Asteroid, the Belt's primary food source. Almost immediately a lively competition began between the fiercely independent "Belters" and the technology police of the U.N. Several years of tension and economic conflicts followed, but soon settled into a relatively peaceful trade relationship as the Belt has so many resources that the UN and the Earth need.

C.J. Cherryh also had gritty Belters in her books Heavy Time (1991) and Hellburner (1992). Wikipedia, again:

[The novels] are set in the Sol system at the beginning of the "Company Wars" period in the 24th century. Heavy Time introduces ASTEX, a division of the Sol Station Corporation, ... engaged in asteroid mining for minerals to support the Earth's economy and the war effort. Disputes over mining rights, corporate corruption and economic exploitation are key plot elements in the first novel.

Both Niven and Cherryh depict Belters as scrappy, independent operators, comfortable in tight spaces and hard vacuum suits, mining the rocks and constantly struggling with more sedentary Earth bureaucracies. The whole concept is basically bunk since radiation exposure and bone density loss make it impossible for humans to live in space for long periods, but as long as romantic conceptions are dying hard, might as well acknowledge the early dreamers.

- tom moody

March 18th, 2017 at 10:33 am

Posted in books, films

alex on film -- three reviews

Alex on Film addicts the casual websurfer film fan with incisive analysis of plot holes, behind-the-scenes connections, and other lesser-considered aspects of movies.
His beat encompasses classics as well as genre trash you'd never watch (e.g., the Predator series).
Lately he hit three films I'd seen in the last six months, so the jackpot is... a blog post.

The Lineup (1958). Lesser-known rough gem from the great Don Siegel (see Alex on Film's screenshot above).

Le Samouraï (1967). Agree this is style over substance, and one might add, the ending makes no sense. The police procedural aspects and Inspector Javert-like cop add spice to the tale of a loner who would eventually be better-incarnated as Jim Jarmusch's and Forest Whitaker's Ghost Dog. Lastly, Jean-Pierre Melville isn't really new wave, more like proto-new wave, although this film came at the height of that era.

The Witch (2015). Spoiler: The witch did it.

Also, in a review of Coma, an appreciation of the under-appreciated Geneviève Bujold (who I celebrity-spotted in a NYC bookstore once -- the clerk who was helping her obviously had no idea he was assisting royalty):

Geneviève Bujold . . . well, she could have been a star. As David Thomson puts it, she “is so remarkable in [Coma] that she makes one conscious of how a steady career has neglected her real virtues.” Or per Pauline Kael: “There’s no way to sanitize this actress. She’s like a soft furry animal and she’s irreducibly curious; she snuggles deep inside the shallow material.”

She was in fact a star, Hollywood-career-arc-wise, from King of Hearts through Anne of a Thousand Days through Tightrope, roughly, but let's also recall the auteur types she worked with: Brian De Palma (Obsession), Alan Rudolph (Choose Me), and David Cronenberg (Dead Ringers).

- tom moody

March 7th, 2017 at 9:03 am

Posted in films

Drive, book and film

Drive, the movie, featured disturbing gore, Albert Brooks as a notable villain, and too-long stretches of Ryan Gosling and Carey Mulligan making cow eyes at each other. It's pretty good but if you backtrack to director Nicolas Winding Refn's "Pusher Trilogy" you can see how the director deliberately, possibly subversively, "went Hollywood." If you want to experience Drive without the sentimental goop, I recommend the Pusher films and also James Sallis' source novel, also titled Drive. (And the book's sequel, Driven.)

Keith Rawson has a good rundown on the Drive book/film differences. Sallis is a writerly writer in the Cormac McCarthy mold who is also a fan of Richard Stark. The Driver character resembles Parker with backstory -- mostly melancholy. Driver is far less zombie-like in the books than Gosling plays him.

One lingering question about Drive, the book, and please email if you have any thoughts. A character is introduced late in the story named "Eric Guzman." There is an earlier character named Standard Guzman (Standard Gabriel in the movie -- Mulligan's creepy husband played by Oscar Isaac.) Who the hell is Eric Guzman supposed to be? Is this Standard back from the dead? A fake name used by mobsters trying to track down Driver? Both? Neither? Very little is said between Driver and another character, "Doc," to explain who "Eric" was and what happened to him. Did Driver "take him out"? The barely-explained reappearance of the Guzman name (and there is a third Guzman mentioned -- Eric's brother Noel, who Doc supposedly fixed up medically) in a novel with a Pulp Fiction-style scrambled chronology throws off the rhythm of the scrambling so the result, for this reader, was confusion as to when events were taking place. Again, would appreciate others' thoughts.

- tom moody

August 3rd, 2016 at 9:40 am

Posted in books, films

The GIF

THEgif

you know, The GIF, with cate blanchett and keanu reeves
they make GIFs but then are faced with a terrible choice
there were hidden frames in that GIF
russian hackers were involved
played by katie holmes and greg kinnear

- tom moody

July 29th, 2016 at 7:08 am

Posted in films

Hard to Be a God -- book and film

Good English translations of books by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky are starting to become available; I recommend their science-fiction-cum-medieval-swashbuckler Hard to Be a God. Star Trek fans will immediately recognize this as a "prime directive" story ("We must not interfere in this primitive society, however dysfunctional") but Hard to Be a God was published in the Soviet Union in '64, two years before Trek's five year mission. Moreover, the observers walking around on this feudal planet, wearing mini-cams disguised as jewelry, are Communist utopians, not Federation would-be-colonialists. The observers see themselves as historians, nothing more. Plotwise, let's just say this particular planet's habit of torturing and killing its intellectuals sorely tests our protagonist's restraint. The antagonist, Don Reba, was originally named Rebia, an anagram for a certain Stalinist henchman; the Strugatskys changed it because it was a little too obvious.
Iain M. Banks wrote a similar tale 35 years later, Inversions, with two competing notions of how to go native. Also recommended.
Not necessarily recommended is the 2013 film version of Hard to Be a God, directed by Aleksei German (who died that year). The film mixes Tarkovskian aesthetics with Ubu Roi-ish perversity in a depiction of a completely degraded anti-culture. It's stylistically fascinating but incoherent; the science fiction aspects are subtle to the point of non-existence. For example, the characters are constantly mugging for the camera disguised as a jewel on the protagonist's forehead (which is never explained), yet he is in half the shots, being filmed by we-know-not-what. The book mentions helicopters whisking our agents around the planet; these are not seen in the movie, which is all horses and mud puddles -- like an extended version of the "Bring Out Your Dead" sequence in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

- tom moody

July 22nd, 2016 at 8:59 am

Posted in books, films

Let the Right One In -- metafiction reconsidered

Wrote the following post in 2012 after seeing the film version of John Ajvide Lindqvist's book Let the Right One In. After reading the book I'm not so sure of this. More after the blockquote. [Spoilers]

Let the Right One In [the film] is a perfect loop that spins out more even metafiction than the main story contains.
Several mysteries of the clumsy Father, surrogate Father, or captor seen in the first half are explained in the second.
The Father, we learn, is the boy at the end of the next cycle of serving as keeper/guardian for the ageless vampire girl.
What strikes us initially as the Father's slow-witted ineptitude is in fact burn-out and grief after a lifetime of murdering for her and covering up her crimes. He still loves her, because she once seduced him just as convincingly and decisively as she does the Boy in this film. Yet he longs for death, wants to get caught, and disfigures himself horribly when he sees he is about to be replaced, inevitably, by a younger guardian.
All of this will happen to the Boy, as it happened to unknown other boys before. We are seeing the beginning and the end of his life.
One critic complained about the violence of the revenge in the swimming pool at the end -- was it just a cheap thrill for the audience? Perhaps, but the pleasure is hollowed-out by the scenes of the Boy weeping afterwards. Also the extremity of the event further explains the Boy's willingness to give the girl decades of servitude -- he owes her big time. Prior to this we saw him vacillating over her murders, even losing his taste for his serial killer clipping collection. After this incident, he's hooked for life.
I pondered the gender-bending of the vampire Girl. It explains how/why she offers "guy advice" to the Boy about defending himself from bullies. She asks the Boy to "be me" but also wants to be him.
We see hints of how the power dynamic of this very alike couple will play out over years of the Boy's servitude. The girl bosses the Father around and occasionally offers him a stroke on the cheek. The Boy, feeling his oats after shellacking his first bully, plays games with the girl's weakness of not being able to enter a room uninvited. She must give him a bloody demonstration of where such games will lead.
Most the reviews I skimmed talked about the coming of age/romance aspects of the story but not its exposition of the roots of a lifetime co-dependent relationship.

Reading Lindqvist's novel, source of the film, several years later, lowers the above interpretation a few notches. [More spoilers] In the book, the "father" is an alcoholic with a jones for boys, picked up by the vampire late in the alcoholic's life, and the vampire is in fact a boy, missing genitalia since his transformation to bloodsucker instigated by a sadistic vampire aristocrat in centuries past. (The purpose and mechanics of the de-sexing are a bit murky in the book.) Although Lindqvist wrote the script for the film version, the decision was made to downplay the sexual elements. Those changes certainly still leave open the interpretation above -- that in the film, the Father was once a Boy to the vampire, and the story hinges on the acquisition of a new Boy. Nevertheless, this spin was not in the author's mind. I still like my "loop of doom" version but it may have to be reclassified as fan fiction.]

Update: A.V. Club critic Scott Tobias had a take similar to mine:

And then the coda -- which finds Oskar on a train during the daytime, tapping Morse code to Eli, who’s curled up in a box by his side -- feels remarkably bittersweet. Their destinies are now entwined, and they aren’t alone any more, but for how long? Someday, Oskar will also be a middle-aged man, trudging out in the snow with a funnel and a jug, collecting sustenance for his beloved.

- tom moody

June 18th, 2016 at 9:58 am

Posted in books, films

quick cultural roundup

Books

Jeff VanderMeer, "Southern Reach" trilogy. VanderMeer wrote an intro to a Thomas Ligotti book where he discussed "working through Lovecraft," implying that big boy writers like Ligotti and VanderMeer had done that. VanderMeer's "Southern Reach" books, especially the first two, grab the reader but these are no "Colour Out of Space" because they substitute indecisiveness for ambiguous atmosphere. Is VanderMeer's version of Tarkovsky's "The Zone" evil, or not? With Lovecraft you know what you are dealing with even if the particulars aren't clear. Pardon the cynicism, but you don't get a three book contract with Farrar Straus and Giroux if you believe what lies below is darkness.

John Ajvide Lindqvist, F. Paul Wilson. As an antidote to VanderMeer's "highbrowing" of horror tropes, check out these two authors. Lindqvist wrote Let the Right One In and became that rare writer allowed to script his own property for the film version. The book is good, as is his Handling the Undead. F. Paul Wilson wrote The Keep and dislikes Michael Mann's movie version (one might disagree). Wilson has two series going, "pure" horror stories and a rollicking run of horror-adventure stories featuring the character Repairman Jack. In 2012, the two sets of books came together in an apocalyptic finale titled Nightworld. Both arcs are recommended -- FPW injects Lovecraftian ambiguity by having humanity's "Ally" be as indifferent to our fates as the beasties boiling up out of pits in the earth.

Movies

Monte Hellman films. Hellman lensed The Shooting and Ride in the Whirlwind back-to-back in the Utah desert, in his Corman days (mid-1960s). Jack Nicholson acts in both and wrote the Whirlwind script. Both are masterful films, though Shooting is marred by a confused ending (Wikipedia and Danny Peary's Cult Movies disagree on what happened at the end). This is the bleakest, most beautiful country you will see, populated by hard people doing hard tasks for no apparent reason. Two Lane Blacktop's themes of alienation were well in place in these "lost" films. Even earlier in his Corman period, Hellman handled second-unit chores for Creature from the Haunted Sea, a wild and crazy time capsule starring Chinatown screenwriter Robert Towne as a ridiculous secret agent. Hellman's contributions include a gorgeously-shot sequence where the gun moll sings a "lounge"-type song on the deck of a yacht, with the sea heaving dreamily all around her, and incongruously slips the movie's title into the lyrics.

- tom moody

June 8th, 2016 at 12:32 pm

Posted in books, films

lucy-as-performance

1462472409425-dumpfm-tommoody-modern_furniture Lucy-gif

 

On the left, random photo-detail-crop of Cally Spooner performance work at the NewMu (hat tip helvetica12); on the right, a clip from Luc Besson's Lucy, depicting Scarlett Johansson telekinetically flinging a mobster into a wall. Caught on the fly, Spooner's work resembles standard Trisha Brown-style gesture art but there's so much more. As the press release tells us, this is "a group of dancers who respond to conflicting choreographic instructions: to stay intimately bound together while remaining fiercely separate." Moreover, "trained by rugby players and a movie director, [their work follows] the logic of a 'stand-up scrum' -- a daily meeting often used in collaborative, responsive practices such as software development." Darn, that's a lot for one work of art.

Scarlett Johansson may or may not have had a rugby coach, but she is definitely guided by a movie director. Cally Spooner perhaps didn't need the theoretical overkill to institutionally legitimize her dancers' movements. In our current critically relaxed state where Laura Poitras and Tim Burton are shown in museums as "artists" it's only fitting to consider Johansson's genetically enhanced superhuman Lucy as form of po-Mo body practitioner. Semioticians may have already noted that the name Lucy is a trans twist on Luc, etc etc.

- tom moody

May 31st, 2016 at 10:33 am

furious milk

Was discussing the not-very-well-explained subplot of "mother's milk" in Mad Max: Fury Road with a family member recently.
Yes, what was that all about?
A quick surf around the non-Facebook internet yielded some info:

This site explains the role of breast milk in the film's future barter economy. I guess we could say the movie shows us all this rather than tells it (hey, there's action we have to do here).

A geek wonders if there was a deleted scene explaining the mother's milk.

Another writer develops an elaborate web of ecofeminist theory based on the film's few hints of botched exposition. What the heck -- go for it.

So there you have it.

- tom moody

March 6th, 2016 at 6:57 am

Posted in films

d-oh ex machina

It wouldn't be surprising if the movie Ex Machina were funded by an industrial consortium seeking to "normalize" replacement of human labor. The movie's propaganda message is: AIs are coming, they'll look so good we'll want to sleep with them, and they'll outsmart us in the short run. Whoa, Nelly! Put down that Koolaid.™
The Uncanny Valley is still an obstacle to robot sex toys. Anything short of perfectly human (too-plastic skin, unusual joint movement, glassy eyes) looks freaky to the non-fetish majority. Ex Machina uses CGI sleight of hand to convince us the male characters are reacting to "hot" (skinny) fashion models. If that failed the film would fall apart in the first half hour.
There's no point in critiquing the movie's other implausibilities. It's film noir, meaning we watch helplessly as the patsy makes one blunder after another in a clockwork mechanism of predestined doom. Elements of the Stepford Wives, Terminator 3, etc.
So we look for other agendas this movie's cranking. Hollywood lifestyle (swanky modern home in picturesque wilderness); adolescent libido (disposable, elfin hotties that keep pushing those male gaze buttons); Silicon Valley as the new Rockefellers (bad guy invents a search engine called "Bluebook" -- note Bluebeard reference -- that 90% of the world uses); sadism as entertainment (women are chopped up but hey they're just robots). Watching it, you are subtly re-programmed to value the things it purports to be critiquing.

- tom moody

July 13th, 2015 at 10:30 am