Books Completed in August

1. The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir by Wenguang Huang
2. Horns, by Joe Hill
3. Paper Valentine, by Brenna Yovanoff
4. Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray
5. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (audio book), by Lisa See
6. A Blackbird Sings: a book of short poems, edited Fiona Robyn and Kaspalita Thompson
7. No Roses for Harry! by Gene Zion
8. Unnatural Creatures, edited by Neil Gaiman
9. Emiko Superstar, written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Steve Rolston
10. Wave (audio book), by Sonali Deraniyagala

Read reviews on my livejournal.

A list of new-to-me movies watched in July and August can be found here.

Holy Exploding Internet, Batman!

Ever since I’ve heard a new Superman vs Batman movie would be coming out in 2015, I’ve been pretty much indifferent. I loved all the Batman movies (from Tim Burton to Christopher Nolan, with the one exception of the crappy Batman & Robin in 1997), but while I’ve enjoyed several Superman movies, I’ve never been a huge fan. Superman is not a comic character I get excited over.

The Avengers franchise has managed to do something incredible in the way it has created a series of loosely interconnected solo movies, which then came together in the amazing team movie. I just don’t see that level of dedication with the Justice League team or with this new Superman vs Batman movie.

So, with this level of indifference, I can’t get too upset about the fact that Ben Affleck has been cast as the new Batman. It doesn’t affect my level of indifference one bit.

I do recognize, however, that it is a bad decision on the part of the filmmakers.

This is not because Ben Affleck is a bad actor. In general, I think he’s a decent actor. He’s been in several movies I loved (Argo, Good Will Hunting, Shakespeare in Love), lots of movies that were just okay, and many movies that were bad. I’d say that’s about average for a lot of actors out there.

And, while, yes, Daredevil was a terrible, terrible movie, that fact can’t be entirely blamed on Ben Affleck. Moviemaking is a collaborative form and how good or bad a movie turns out is dependent on not just the actors, but also (and perhaps even more so) on the producer, writers, and director, as well as all the other crew members that make a movie possible.

So, it’s entirely possible that with the right writers, director, producers, cast, crew, and Ben Affleck as Batman, the new Superman vs. Batman movie could be great. (Though I doubt it.)

No, what makes this casting choice a bad decision is that it clearly shows that the moviemakers have no sense of the geek world and who the fan base is — mostly comic geeks, who are very passionate about their superheroes. If a producer came up to me and suggested Ben Affleck as Batman, I would have responded, “You’ve seen Daredevil, right? So, you know the internet is going to explode, right?”

And indeed, the internet has exploded (check out iO9’s 50 Greatest Tweets about Ben Affleck Casting as Batman, for rather humorous examples).

To me this decision represents the first poor decision (that we know of), which will likely preempt more such decisions. This doesn’t bode well for the final outcome of the movie.

Let me know you’re thoughts in the comments, and I’ll just settle back comfortably into my indifference, while I watch another episode of Fringe.*

*Author may not be actually watching said episodes, as author does actually have to work today.

Friday Five*: Scifi and Fantasy Movies I Can't Wait to See

1. The Philosophers – (view trailer)
The Philosophers

What It’s About: For the final session of his philosophy class, a teacher sets up a thought experiment: If the apocalypse comes and you can only fit so many people in your shelter, who do you let stay and who do you leave to die? (Based on the trailer, I’m guessing they play out the experiment in some sort of simulator.) But what starts as a mere experiment, turns violent and all too real.

Why It Looks Awesome: Gorgeous visuals combined with a complex moral dilemma should make for a captivating story. Also, it plays on the original Greek definition for apocalypse, “a disclosure of knowledge, i.e., a lifting of the veil or revelation,” which is rather refreshing.

2. Pacific Rim – (view trailer)
Pacific Rim

What It’s About: Enormous monsters from beneath the seas have awakened and begin reeking havoc on the world. In response, humanity designs giant mechanical robots to fight back.

Why It Looks Awesome: I have mixed feelings about giant mech stories (though I enjoyed Mobile Suit Gundam Wing), however I like the idea of the mech operators having to share memories. It reminds me of a number of anime stories and Godzilla, and it also includes a number of Asian characters (though I don’t know how sidelined they are). Also, this is directed by Guillermo Del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hell Boy), who is simply amazing at creature design. Not all of his movies are great, but they tend to be fun, and when he hits the right note, his work is fantastic.

3. The World’s End – (view trailer)
The World's End

What It’s About: After many years, five friends return to their hometown to complete the epic pub crawl they failed when they were younger, only to find everyone in the village has been replaced by robots.

Why It Looks Awesome: Simon Peg, Nick Frost, Martin Freeman, and the same crew that did the fantastic and hilarious Sean of the Dead. There is no doubt in my mind that this will be amazing.

4. Europa Report – (view trailer)
Europa Report

What It’s About: An international crew of astronauts undertakes a privately funded mission to search for extraterrestrial life on Jupiter’s fourth largest moon, Europa. But following a disastrous technical failure and the death of one of the crew, the remaining crew struggle to regain communication with Earth

Why It Looks Awesome: Stunning visuals and a realistic depiction of space travel, plus what looks like intense action. Should be amazing.

5. Upstream Color – (view trailer)
Upstream Color

What It’s About: The IMDB description reads: “A man and woman are drawn together, entangled in the life cycle of an ageless organism. Identity becomes an illusion as they struggle to assemble the loose fragments of wrecked lives.” I’m not sure what that means.

The equally confounding trailer claims notes, “You can force your story’s shape but the color will always bloom upstream.”

Why It Looks Awesome: I don’t know if “awesome” is the right word here, since this is described as an experimental film (and I’m not even sure it’s really science fiction), so “intellectually stimulating” is probably more accurate. It’s directed by Shane Carruth, who created Primer, an extremely low budget time travel movie, which was complex, understated, and presented a realistic view of time travel based on currently known physics (it was also a movie you had to see more than once to really understand). My guess that Upstream Color will be equally understated, intelligent, and complex. Plus I’m quite curious to see if watching the movie is as confounding as reading the description.

Edited to Add: I found out after posting this that Upstream Color is already out on streaming and DVD.

_____________

So that’s my five. I tried to stick to movies that might be lesser known, which is why The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smog, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and Carrie didn’t make the list).

For more science fiction and fantasy movies coming out this year, you can also check out IO9’s massive list.

What are the movies that you can’t wait to see in the coming months?

*My plan is to start doing a weekly Friday Five again (on an assortment of random topics), and I’m hoping the ability to schedule posts will help make that happen.

Jane Austen Marathon

My sister, Pilar, was in a mood yesterday — happy, but bored, floating around the house, poking me in the ribs, doing whatever she could to entertain herself.

This boredom led her to throw on Mansfield Park (from 1999), a movie she and I both love. Though the movie follows the plot of the book, one could argue that the additions and subtractions to the movie don’t necessarily follow the spirit of the book. The movie drops some of the propriety, revealing some playfulness, and slips in some commentary on the slave trade, which as I recall doesn’t exist in the book. I can see why these things might bother die hard Austen fans, but I enjoy the choice of actors in the movie and the style of cinematography, so I think the movie stands as a great movie on it’s own, as a story separate from the book.

Next up my sister threw Persuasion (2007) into the DVD player, because it’s her new favorite Austen movie and she insisted that I see it. I haven’t read the book, but I need to. The story is unusual, because the two main characters know each other already, because Anne Elliot was persuaded by family and friends to drop her engagement to Mr. Wentworth, who had little fortune at the time. Eight years later, their paths cross again, and there is a large share of hurt and awkwardness and cruelty between them. I love these kinds of stories, because there’s something so fascinating to me about existing intimacies, as opposed to new flirtations.

The style of the movie is great. Many scenes involve our heroine sitting with her back to a group of people talking. They speak, either not knowing she can hear or not realizing that their words affect her, but the angle of the camera draws us into her space as outsider, and it’s very moving. Also, the ending = love.

Since we were already on a role with the Jane Austen movies, we decided to keep it up. So we put in Sense and Sensibility, the BBC miniseries from 2008. My sister is still very much attached to the Kate Winslet/Emma Thompson version from 1995, which I also enjoy. But despite the shocking (and unnecessary) opening sequence, I ended up falling in love with this new miniseries. The actresses are younger, closer to the ages of the actual characters in the books. It’s kind of a quieter depiction, the acting more subtle, though it’s been ages since I’ve seen the 1995 version. This miniseries actually made me believe that Marianne Dashwood could fall for Colonel Brandon, something other versions couldn’t do. So, yeah, fantastic.

We intended to conclude the night with the 2005 movie version of Pride & Prejudice, with Keira Knightley and Mathew Macfayden (another one I love for being exactly what it is, even if it doesn’t follow the book exactly). However Sense and Sensibility was longer than I thought it would be and by then it had got too late in the evening.

It was a great night of Jane Austen movies, though, and my sister and I had a great time chatting about the books and movies. We have another night planned of watching first Becoming Jane, followed by Miss Austen Regrets. I’d also like to do a marathon of watching several versions of Pride and Prejudice in a row, though that would be an all day event if the miniseries is included.

Battle Royale

Battle RoyaleTHE BOOK: In this blood and gore soaked tale, a class of 40 junior high school students is brought to an island and told by the fascist government that they must kill each other in an all out battle with only one survivor.

This book is definitely comparable to exploitation films and literature, in which violence over storyline is key. It starts with a brief introduction to the kids and its main character Shuye, before launching almost immediately into the slaughter of the kids (unlike its successor Hunger Games, which has a long lead up and gives you time to care about the main character). So, as the first bodies started to fall, I was not fully attached or bothered much by it.

However, this changes as the book goes on and each character is explored more in depth. Takami uses omniscient narration to jump from character to character. So that as the students wander the island, some looking to kill, some trying to just survive, others trying to plot escape, you get to know a little bit more about each one, including what their life was like before and why they are the way they are. (This omniscience also helped me keep the 40+ characters straight and helped to root the main characters in my mind.) So, by the middle of the book, I was definitely invested in seeing what the handful of good guys, who were trying to fight back, would do.

Along with the overriding theme of distrust and betrayal, followed by bloodshed, there was another interesting theme that I’m not sure gets talked about much. Almost all the students had crushes on someone, and who they loved and who loved them was a conversation that was repeated over and over again. Several characters were driven by their need to connect with the person they cared for, but never said anything to, even if its the last thing they do. Even the main character Shuye is focused on saving and protecting Noriko in order to honor his best friend, who had a crush on her. I’m not sure what all this is supposed to mean, but I thought it was very interesting that in a book so filled with death that there would be such a focus on unrequited love. Perhaps it has to do with life and what we really regret when we leave it behind.

I can definitely see why some people would hate this book; it is very bloody and bleak. But as a teenager I spent many of my days avidly reading the horror novels of Stephen King. They, too, were blood-soaked and filled with gore and I read them obsessively. Reading Battle Royale felt like a similar experience, in which I would sit at my desk, eying the book out of the corner of my eye and resenting the fact that I had to get work done instead of read. (Apparently, this comparison to Stephen King is apt, as Takami notes him as a great influence in the afterword.) Neither the works of King, nor Battle Royale are great literature, but they are most certainly readable and, if you’re into horror, very entertaining.

Battle Royale 3D(大逃殺 3D:十周年特別版)-001THE MOVIE: I didn’t quite understand why the director made some of the choices he did. In an interview (which was included in the back of my version of the book), the director talks about making these changes so the story will be more believable. However, I didn’t quite buy that students boycotting school would make adults so afraid of them that they would start a program like the Battle Royale, as they do in the movie. It seemed more likely to me that the book’s version of using the Program as a way to institute fear and control made more sense.

Also, because the book was so fresh in my mind, I had a bit of a hard time with the movie, because there is almost zero chance to get to know and care about any of the characters. The students do die in bloody and entertaining ways — a lot of spinning is involved, actors pirouetting when shot multiple times — but it wasn’t as gory as other movies I’ve seen. Some of the dialog was kind of cheesy, too.

However, I ended up watching the movie twice, and in the second go around, I definitely was able to stop over critiquing it and enjoy it more. In fact, I really liked it the second go around, which makes me think that I probably would have loved it, if I hadn’t hadn’t read the book first.

[Cross-posted to my livejournal.]