Sunday, March 16, 2014

Matt’s Week in Dork! (3/9/14-3/15/14)

    On Sunday morning, I finished up Brian K. Vaughan’s Pride of Bagdad, the next selection of the graphic novel club.  I liked the art a lot, but the actual story was a bit obvious and pretty bare bones.  Not bad, but not something I’d ever need to read again.  But then it was off to the races on what ended up being a pretty busy week (including my ranty letter to the makers of Star Wars).

The White Queen:  Considering it’s from Starz, this show is shockingly classy.  Sure, it’s full of nudity and violence, but it’s far less crass and exploitative than Magic City or (shudder) Spartacus.  It tells some of the story of the War of the Roses, with a focus on the women involved in the story.  Though women, particularly when seen through the lens of Victorian and consequently early 20th century histories, have often gotten either a bum rap or completely ignored, the idea that women and men do not share a common history is idiotic (why I’m against the idea of ‘women’s history,’ as opposed to ‘women in history;’ to separate one from the other is to miss the point of it all), and the idea that major historic events didn’t involve women is illogical and counter to common sense.  I like that this series shows the active involvement in the changing politics these women take, while not trying to somehow take away from what the men were doing.  You often see in more female-centered history-based tales, not the building up of women, but the tearing down of men (making them stupid, sex-mad monsters, in much the way male-centered histories of the past tried to cast women as either docile or dangerously predatory [akin to the virgin/whore problem]), so this was a welcome and refreshing aspect of the series, with men and women being shown as all the shades of gray one would expect in reality.  Early episodes were a touch wonky, in part because they brought in a bit of the supernatural, which I found off-putting.  I’m assuming that’s from the novels(?).  It wasn’t needed, and distracts from the more interesting, real story.  And I think adding the magic to the female characters lessened their power as humans, by giving in to that old idea that women can only succeed through magic, manipulation, or subterfuge.  Overall, it’s not as well done as some history based shows, and some of the cast is a challenge to get behind (Max Irons, I’m looking at you!…and I wish I wasn’t).  Still, it’s mostly good and worth checking out, and series lead Rebecca Ferguson is darned good.  If this is the direction Starz is headed, who knows.  Maybe one day they could rival HBO in quality programming.  I’m not holding my breath, but maybe.

The Last Days on Mars:  This film has everything it needs…except a good idea.  The production design, the cast, the music, the setting.  It’s all great.  The film looks fantastic.  But once the central idea is revealed, it turns stupid and never looks back.  Now I can add this to the lengthening list of should-have-been-better Mars exploration films, like Mission to Mars and Red Planet.  All of them have good things going for them, yet all of them are failures, because of bad scripts or poorly conceived ideas.  And this film fits right along side.  I can not stress how annoyed I was upon realizing just how lame the central struggle would be.  There was a grimace, followed by a lot of head shaking, and at least one ‘oh, no.’  Please, film makers.  Please.  Don’t do this again.  It works in a movie like Ghost of Mars, because nobody is going to Ghost of Mars for a serious science fiction film.  It doesn’t work here.  Maybe one day we’ll get an adaptation of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars that will live up to its potential.  Until then, I guess we’ll just get a bunch of this crap.

Donnie Darko:  This is a movie that really blew me away the first time I watched it.  It broke my brain in all the best ways, stayed with me for years.  But I have to admit, I don’t feel the same awe and wonder I once did.  Watching it again, I still find a lot of things to like in the film, and there are some excellent bits.  But I see more of the ‘first film’ syndrome than I noticed before.  Still a must for fans of the surreal and challenging.  But perhaps not the modern classic I’d have once named it.

Von Richthofen and Brown:  This Roger Corman WWI movie is surprisingly good, with lots of excellent flying footage.  The acting is uneven and there are some technical issues.  But for one of his more serious efforts, it’s a winner.  The star really is the flying, though.  And a lot of that is gorgeous.

The Grand Budapest Hotel:  Wes Anderson makes a very peculiar sort of film, and he does it very, very well.  This time around he taps into the Golden Age Hollywood madcap comedy films, with plenty of World War II and Cold War allusions.  It’s wistful and nostalgic for bygone eras, but not cloying.  It’s also delightfully crass, and typically surreal.  The by now trademark Anderson artificiality is on display, enhancing the old Hollywood vibe in the sets and backdrops.  The cast is awesome, and it’s so nice to see Ralph Fiennes doing comedy again, and playing someone so dashing (if sleazy).  I love that this movie revels in the wonder and visual craziness of the very medium.  It’s not naturalistic.  It’s not realistic.  But it gets to some truths, even while reveling in its fantasy world.

    Saturday was a crazy danged day.  I assisted Satnam on the set of the film he directed from a script I wrote.  It’s been a danged long time in the works.  I first conceived the idea as something I thought I might be able to do myself, building the ‘set’ in a closet in my old Brewer, ME apartment, about ten or twelve years ago.  Only one cast member, and no camera movement.  I thought I could handle that.  But cameras were too expensive and I had no skill or knowledge of how to do it.  Still, I liked the idea.  Some time after I moved to Virginia, I met someone who expressed interest in filming it, someone with skills and resources.  But it never materialized.  Lots of talk, but no action, and nothing happened.  But after assisting Satnam on a previous film, he said he was looking for another project, and I mentioned my idea.  He liked it enough to want to read my script.  Well…I don’t know what happened to it.  I’m sure if I go searching through my old disks, I’ll find it.  But, I didn’t want to.  So, I sat down and re-wrote it.  And that was it.  A few re-writes, a search for an actor, our fumbling attempts at set construction, finding other professionals to help us out with sound and make-up.  And then filming.  To say I was a ball of nerves is an understatement.  It’s kind of amazing to see words you wrote being spoken by an actor on a set.  I would not be heart broken if I had to do this for a living.

    Now that the movie is in the can, the editing and post production and all that starts up, and I don’t have anything to do with that.  So, it’s on to my next project, prepping for next weekend’s Call of Cthulhu game.  Most of the heavy lifting was done for the first session, so now it’s going to be a lot of details, extra bits, and such.  And then of course, to get myself psyched up and ready to go.  Though it may not be, I could see this being the final session of this game/story.  It might go on to a third or fourth night, depending on how their investigations go, and how deadly things get.  So I'm trying to think ahead for what folks might want to do next.  I think this group would be best suited for something light, fast paced, action and mystery packed, with plenty of room to roam.  I'm still thinking.


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