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Nov. 21st, 2010

Column Notification and Reviews

With all that's occurred over the past two months, I have been negligent in updating this particular sliver of cyberspace, so let me attempt to correct this gross oversight.

In the first place, we have Installment Eight of my monthly column Watching the Future, in which I try to figure out why, in light of Damien Walter's Guardian article, there aren't more cinematic science fiction masterpieces.

In 1994, I attended a panel at Armadillocon that discussed the failure of most sf movies to match the quality of its print counterpart. As an example, somebody made a derisive comment about Stargate (which I had just seen and hated) and a couple of members of the panel said, "Oh, you know, there was a lot to recommend that." I sat in the audience with my jaw dropped. Impossible, I thought. The panelists are bemoaning the state of sf cinema, which has been dreadful for most of its history, and yet they're making excuses for that particular piece of tripe? Really? How on earth do you improve sf movies if you continue to make excuses for the crap?

How does this happen? And what can be done about it?




Note that I do give warning about the impending film snobbery.

And I've got three recent reviews out. The first is of Gibson's newest novel Zero History, and I pride myself on not going too fanboy.

Looked at solely from that standpoint, Zero History might indeed seem absurd. But Gibson is after much more than a few playful jabs at the standard thriller plot, despite the effectiveness of those plot elements. In one sequence, Hollis and Milgrim wind up at a French fashion fair, where Milgrim tries to lose a paramilitary type who is tailing them. A ruse that involves dropping his cell phone into an expensive stroller pushed by the wife of a Russian mobster leads, in a roundabout way, to a kidnapping scheme. No, what Gibson is after is an exploration of not only fashion but lifestyle. For while the characters in Zero History operate in a civilian world, that world has co-opted the methods created by the military, thus making the separation between the two meaningless, an ironic Interzone where Federal agents receive intelligence dispatches via Twitter and penguin-shaped surveillance drones float above the streets of Paris.


I didn't say this in my review, but I was also glad to read a thriller in which the characters are those who actually act like they've read a thriller or two. Indeed, Hollis Henry is making her way through Geoffrey Household's Rogue Male early in the novel.



And of course there are movies. I review the new installment of the Harry Potter franchise, though my feelings are at best mixed.

Their search takes them through various forests and charmed cities, and at this point the movie drags. A shame, because this is the point where the movie should hold most of its emotional weight. The three have just lost their mentors through death or alienation, they have pushed away their families to protect them, and so have nowhere to go and nobody to show them what to do next: an apt metaphor for wandering through the interzone between childhood and adulthood. But the aimlessness isn't very interesting. Though I admire what writer Steven Kloves and director David Yates were trying to accomplish (and they certainly try), they dramatize it poorly. It doesn't help that Radcliffe, Grint and Watson wear the same dour expressions throughout, as if they've studied under the Derek Zoolander Center for Children Who Can't Read Good and Wanna Learn to Do Other Stuff Good Too.




And we have a review of Gareth Edwards's first feature Monsters, which I found to be very good indeed. If any one recent science fiction movie deserved a large audience and wide exposure, this would be it.

Two scenes early in the sublime Monsters show that writer-director Gareth Edwards is, with his first feature, not only a master cinematic craftsman but one also schooled in showing his audience his world rather than explaining it. As photojournalist Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) and Samantha Wynden (Whitney Able) await transport to a ferry that will take them away from the Central American Infected Zone (where, six years before, a satellite carrying alien microbes crashed, causing new life forms to appear) and back to America, they stay overnight in the home of a Hispanic family. As they talk to the mother and her children, a television plays in the background, featuring an animated children's program that presumably explains the giant squidlike aliens. Another occurs when Kaulder and Wynden pass a mural depicting the aliens fighting jets and tanks. Both sequences are over very quickly, but they tell the audience nearly everything about the world Edwards has created.


Enjoy.

June 2012

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