This Week in Geek (11-17/05/15)


I've been wanting to get into Love & Rockets, the comics not the band, so I got the first collection, Maggie the Mechanic, and go from there. The rest of my purchases this week are DVDs: Captain America The Winter Soldier, Predestination, Continuum Season 1 and 2, Locke, and Lucy.


At the movies: Does every genre movie have to spawn a gendrist controversy? Mad Max: Fury Road made the news for the fringe men's rights movement (as in "bowel ____") calling it feminism taken too far because apparently they support the idea of keeping sex slaves, and reject the idea that women should be given roles in action films (or films at all). But it's not even as if the Mad Max universe didn't already contain "Amazons", or do these douchebags not consider Thunderdome's Warlord Tina Turner canon? Quite beyond this manufactured "controversy" is the fact that yes, this is the story of Charleze Theron's character Furiosa. Max gets caught up in events she engineers, and helps HER achieve HER ends. I don't see it as a problem, in large part because Theron is so watchable. It's really a two-hander and the real injustice, if there is one, is that he's got his name in the title and she doesn't (although she kind of does). Now, the critics have been unanimous in calling this a high bar in action film making, and while I think they're laying it on a bit thick (maybe because I've consumed so much Asian cinema), it IS of a high standard. It does car chases the way The Raid: Redemption does fighting. It's relentless, but somehow still sketches in its characters and allows several of them to "arc" satisfyingly. And while Max is secondary to Furiosa, he still has agency, still has an impact on her, and lets her have an impact on him. Director George Miller offers elans of artiness, but also comic book humor, painting a world that's brutal, but beautiful, and that embraces its ridiculousness.

Also went to see Ex Machina, which could ALSO be a fable about sexual slavery, but comes at it from a more intellectual angle. The story involves the rich and mercurial inventor of an artificial intelligence housed in a beautiful feminine robot body making one of his employees give her the Turing test. Is Eva sentient, or merely simulating sentience? Over the course of a week, we see how Eva and her observer interact, and come to wonder who is really being tested here. That's surely part of the point, because how can a human being prove their sentience to another? We just take it for granted. The ending - which will prove controversial in some quarters - had me thinking Eva had failed the test even though on the surface it seems to indicate she'd passed it. However, it was my insightful film buddy Marty who pointed out that while the film makes you ask those questions, it also rejects the notion that we should be asking them. We don't and shouldn't need anyone to tell us that we are a person and have agency in the world. I thought that was interesting. I love a good SF thinking piece.

DVDs: This week, my i-MUST-CheckMovies 2015 Project made me watch Howl's Moving Castle, on which I believe I've got the consensual opinion. Miyazaki creates a gorgeous an inventive world, full of surprises and whimsy, but the film stumbles in the last minutes as everything is magically resolved in a very short time span indeed, even the stuff you didn't know what a plot thread (the missing prince). It really feels like, oops, just ran out of time, everybody be happy, yay! It doesn't undo the preceding two hours, mind you, as the oddness and visuals create plenty of memorable moments and images. The film often seems more symbolic than anything and is rife for literary and psychological analysis. The girl who believes herself an ugly "unwanted" being turned into a crone, the bipolar wizard losing his humanity, the child apprenticed forced into premature adulthood... Of course, the whiny fire demon Calcifer kind of steals the show, but what can you do? He's adorable.

Books: Hey Kids, Comics! is fellow blogger Rob Kelly's compilation of essays about various authors' first contact with comics. How it changed their lives, provided a safe harbor, or a life-long obsession, or a link with an entire community. I know Rob's talked about how frustrating the project eventually became - on the publishing and distributing end anyway - and as with many small-press books, it does have some irritating typos, which I'm sure were part of Rob's frustration. But that's just about the only negative criticism I can give the book. The danger with this kind of niche compilation is that the texts can feel a little samey, but Rob's almost 40 contributors showcase how everyone's experience is different while still sharing a certain reality. Some are funny, some are tragic (I got choked up on a couple of occasions), so you will relate to, others will seem entirely unusual. The book breaks up the text with pictures of the authors reading comics as kids, quite charming, and the covers of the comics that had the greatest impact on them. And it ends on a grace note that looks to the next generation, I loved that. I don't even think it's something that can only be enjoyed by comic book fans - even if they'll recognize more writers' names if they are - it's just as insightful for people who have fans in their environment, or for readers simply interested in passion. Because that's what it's really about.

TwoMorrows' American Comic Book Chronicles - the 1980s was the first of these handsome, hardcover, full-color volumes to be published, and it unfortunately shows. By which I mean I now understand the Comics Journal types criticizing the series for focusing too much on superhero comics from the Big Two, something that was much better balanced in later books. Sure, the 80s were a new golden age of sorts for DC and Marvel comics, but while there are some great nuggets in there, especially those about projects that never saw the light of day, writer Keith Dallas sometimes goes into too much detail about the various story lines, while glossing over what series were published in the independent arena. Some years feel positively sparse, the page count padded by gigantic illustrations and minimal text. I've liked reading this series, from the 50s to the 80s, and hope TwoMorrows comes up with its volumes on the 40s and 90s soon, but the experience does kind of end on a downer for me. Because the end was really an unpolished beginning.


Eric TF Bat said...

Looking forward to your impressions/review of Predestination. I went in cold, knowing nothing about it, since I'd never heard of it before I found it lurking in my collection, and I obtained it using ahem a method that doesn't include any information other than the film itself. I recognised the hand of the original author (it's based on a SF short story) about a third of the way in, and remembered the title of that story only when the main character name-dropped it at the end. The story is available online, so I went and read it afterward and I have to say I'm very very impressed at how it was made into a film.

So yes... looking forward to your review.

Siskoid said...

I really don't know anything about it either except the title and that Ethan Hawke is in it. Probably will watch it sooner than later.

Toby'c said...

Howl's Moving Castle is not one of my favourite Miyazaki efforts, and I actually kinda wish he'd stuck a little closer to the source material (Diana Wynne Jones' book, which I highly recommend) rather than working his own, overly familiar tropes into it.

Siskoid said...

It does kind of feel like it's part of Princess Mononoke's world. I imagine that's not really a part of the book?


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