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[personal profile] zdashamber
I've been meaning to write about the books and movies I've come across lately, some for their own sakes, some because it seems fair to toss a bit more info out there into the world. Inspired just now by having just watched "Fast Five", and mentally comparing it to "X-Men: First Class". Upshot: Fast Five was a good movie, while X-Men: First Class was just an alright movie. (Sorry, [livejournal.com profile] ebonlock.)

Anyway, ever since "Spiderman 2" (when I noticed that the little kids who were all O__0 at him on his scooter delivering pizzas were black, and it occurred to me that there were black people everywhere in my neighborhood and nowhere in the movies) I can't help but notice race in movies and TV. So Fast Five was refreshing like a mojito. It was your basic heist/action movie with a deep love of cars, but where most media would have a token POC or two, it had everyone. There was maybe a touch of the performing silly blabbermouth black stereotype in one character, but then there were also non-stereotypical black characters in abundance. No one's race got played for laughs. It was just really nice. Also, Sung Kang is so hot. So, so hot. There should be more minority parts just so there can be more chances for him to be on screen.

Anyway, Fast Five had plot holes, but it wasn't really about plot, and they weren't insurmountable, so that was fine. It had people being good to their families in hard situations, and cars barely staying together through turns, and a very nice foot chase, and a lot of people not getting shot or broken when they really ought to have, and people sailing off cliffs into blue pools of water at the last minute. I thought the acting of the bald muscley guys was good; nice to see a lot of shots of wrinkled-up foreheads and nods instead of long blathery conversations. It wasn't a bunch of cockwaving talk. Also nice to see people in fistfists who really look like they could actually take people out with a single punch. Women were slightly shorted in terms of character, and the ones without speaking roles were treated like shiny prize cars, but it wasn't too horrible. I'm not sure that Brazil is really that screwed up; sounds more like whatever the orientalising version of South America is; but it wasn't too necessary for the movie. There was a gay couple (at least, I think that was text, with the one kvetching about the other's cooking?) who were totally non-stereotypical (anarchist muppet!) and a lot of fun. I'd say good movie, worth seeing.

NOW ON TO SPOILERS: Last Saturday I saw X-Men: First Class, which was just ok. I mentioned on Facebook that I felt it missed its own point, by not spending time having characters wrestle with the question of whether and in what way mutants should/should not work with humans and traditional government. That was the spine of your movie, guys! Erik and Charles were the lungs or the legs or the heart and brain or whatever, but without a strong spine, it was just kinda floppy.

So I notice things. I noticed that the early 60s were apparently hella hella white? Despite the whole civil rights movement/pan-africanism thing happening right then? Oy. Anyway, in XMFC we had two black people, and let me just pause here and note that currently at Wednesday night TV night we're watching "I Spy" in which a black dude gets to be a full-on fleshed out hero American government agent, and a lot of other POCs get to be all sorts of things, and it comes from 1965. Anyway, one of the black people in XMFC abandons her new friends and chance at a legit life to go with the murderous Nazi, I guess because she's weak? Because that really made no sense. And the other, hold me Jesus, dies to give the remaining characters, all of whom are white, reason to fight. Oy. (...Oy.)

It annoyed me that Shaw's attack on the CIA... Well, that whole thing annoyed me. I guess it was nice to point out to C&E that if they were going to collect this pile of tasty morsels they had to defend it, too. But really? Gobshites kill a lot of government guys who probably have been reasonably ok to you, in a time when to be anti-government was a big (COMMUNIST) thing, and say "Join us!" and Anyone does? Christ. What? It makes no sense from a in-story perspective, and the sense it makes from a movie perspective would only work if Angel had any sort of character built up at the time so we would feel something about her leaving, which she didn't, or if there was a discussion about what it meant to go vs stay, which there wasn't. The only way to save that scene is to imagine that Angel went along to become a double agent, and then Emma Frost melted her mind.

Anyway, I noticed that Moira was the only protagonist woman. Raven gets to make a nice character choice about embracing her mutantity, but she doesn't get to take action or direct the way the plot goes. She's another woman who gets dealt out by the writers like a pile of poker chips at the end of some awkwardly timed and regrettably unelaborated philosophical contretemps. Emma had a bad actress.

Moira's actress was very good; like (I believe) [livejournal.com profile] tersa said, even when she was in her skivvies she made it clear she was doing a job.

Annnnyway. Coulda made the movie tighter by dropping Havok (no point to that guy) and the second scene with the suborned American military guy, and then had space for Erik and Charles to discuss Machiavelli over chess.

...Actually, so thinking about this all and boiling it down, I think what annoyed me was that anyone who joined side evil did it because they were "weak", because side evil never got a chance to make a legitimate case. And that meant that side good also didn't have much of a case. So it was annoying that it was the blacks and women who were weak and evil, but most annoying was the lack of depth in the plot.

---Smaller notes---

[livejournal.com profile] ebonlock pointed out that the 60s vibe was cool. It was! Silly-ass chairs that look like cubes, and metal circles as your wall art...! But there could have been so much more... I missed 60s hairstyles, and clothes, and I really, really missed 60s tech. We went to the moon with 60s tech! Woulda been nice to have the submarine look less like "we ran out of money for sets so here's a CGI white box".

Also, bad CGI. I'm thinking that palm trees, when hit by tons of metal at high speeds, do not "bend" so much as "shatter".

It is interesting to look at the evolution of portrayals of Russians. In 2011, Russians get to be kinda decent honorable guys. Cool.

The MC1R gene wasn't found until the early 90s, according to OMIM. Genetics geeking there. :P

I loved the way a lot of the dialogue was in different languages. Excellent! Realistic! Gave a sense of the world!

Sadly, Professor X as a "good" write-capable telepath has a hill to climb for me. Most mutants, they could kill you, sure; but he could destroy you. And this movie started him off as a rich, rich, son of a bitch. Does he understand other people? Is he good enough to not casually break you? By the evidence of the movie, I'd say, .....eeeehh.

It it always nice, though, to see fine-looking telekinetics kill Nazis. Mm-hm.

And the cameo that everyone is so pleased with was in fact pleasing. Both necessary, and sufficient. MNSHO.


So anyway, awhile back the Borders near me went out of business, and I have armfuls, like literally multiple armfuls, of books. There was a book called _The Widow of the South_ by Robert Hicks which I picked up due to a previously unnoted interest in the Civil War. The back made it sound like a love story set in some gruesome battle, and I enjoy getting history from historical romance books, so I added it to the armful. It turned out to be a litfic sort of book, but it did have good history in it. The battle was one I hadn't heard of; the Battle of Franklin, towards the end of the war in late 1864 when it was clear the South was losing and General Hood apparently decided to make World War One even more bitterly ironic by demonstrating what happened when you charged up a hill towards entrenched people with lots of ammo. The spine of the book is, a lady who was completely screwed up from being kinda odd and then having three of her five kids die of childhood diseases, pulls herself together when her house is made into a hospital for the results of this battle. She particularly comes to care for remaking a shellshocked at-loose-ends veteran.

Litfic is not so much my thing; "blah pulls themselves together" is fine, but I like it better when it comes with "meanwhile there is a murder to solve" or especially "while still managing to defeat the invading fleh". The book was engaging when I was reading it, but I put it down about 50 pages from the end and took a week and a half to come back. Still, good descriptions and history bits; good choices of characters to show the range of people in the south at that time. I liked the mention of excavation of indian mounds after the war; so tragic, the archaeological losses! Fine handling of black experiences, so far as I could tell. Nice conveyal of atmosphere that makes it clear where the entire genre of Westerns comes from (a bunch of shellshocked people who know how to shoot and have seen a lot of death probably tend to make frontier places wild).

After the Harry Connolly books I read Harry Turtledove's _Guns of the South_ which I'd heard about as a classic. Basic idea: people from our time show up in early 1864 with AK-47s and supply the Confederate Army with them. It didn't come off as well... Sidenote, a lot of people in California despise the South, which pisses me off. Provincial dolts. But I do despise neo-Confederates, and anything smacking of that has a hard hill to climb. So I thought it was a bit awkward that it turned out that after the South won the Civil War, our viewpoint characters realize that slavery is bad yo, and eventually a law passes that will lead to its evaporation! The whole "we just wanted to chart our own course, of course it would have worked out for the slaves eventually" bit of bullshit is contemptible. Now, having talked about this with [livejournal.com profile] ericorange I have decided that Turtledove did try to make it clear that it was only the intervention of the people from the future that made the law pass. But it was a problem throughout that he didn't want to have a book about time travel, he wanted a book about alternate history. The de-emphasis on the time travelling lead to problems like the above, and also, for reals, Lee seems like a clever fellow who would have tried to get spies into the future. Eh. The laying out of research in the book was nice. Character does not seem to be Turtledove's strong point; for one thing, he doesn't convey a sense of paralax. The writings of his that I've read come across as smug because there's no sense of alternate perspectives on the characters, from other characters or from the author. But the surrender of Washington DC was nicely written, Ben Butler the diplomat was amusing, and I loved to see the Battle of the Crater (most horrible cockup EVAR) arrive properly despite their war being won long before it showed up in our timeline. The description of training with AK-47s was great; would be useful bits to read for people thinking about Corwin's troops in Amber. But on the whole, a book where the South wins, it never made it worth the essential tragedy.

I mentioned that between those I'd read Harry Connolly's two books, _Child of Fire_ and _Game of Cages_. [livejournal.com profile] rob_donoghue, I believe, recommended them. They were in fact good enough to keep in the house! Sort of candy reading, but in a quick gruesome Elder Gods sort of way. Now, one confusing thing was that there seems to have been a very influential trunk book before them, so it's like reading books 2 and 3 of a series and I checked the internet twice to see if I really had the first book he'd published ever in my hands. The internet continues to say yes. Anyway, the series is about a ex-con who, without full knowledge, bought himself a part in a struggle of jackass mages against worldeating evils. The main character is good: nice to see someone from an honestly troubled background as just a guy being a protagonist. He gets to care for people. He gets to tell people that he has been in and out of jail and will beat their fool ass. It works. He comes up with plans and does shit that affects the plot! The ladies in the books are varied and badass! So, I would certainly read more. Not yet to the point where I'm jonesing for more, but not bad, really.

Let's see, I re-read _Dragon_ by Brust to get a proper book about war with characters and stuff. It was still good. :)

I read _Coronets and Steel_ by Sherwood Smith because I seem to recall she was good in racefail, and *it* promised to be a romance, and it had a great cover with a woman in jeans and a renaissance fair shirt and sunglasses with a rapier. It was temporarily on the keep pile, and then I shifted it over to sell. The writing was fine in that it kept me interested, but I kept thinking of more off notes. It's a story about a lady vacationing in Vienna to try to track down info on her grandmother, who has gone all non-verbal. She is mistaken for a duchess of a tiny slightly magical country in the area nearish Yugoslavia. The duchess is supposed to marry hunky McPrince, but she's gone missing, so our main character plays the role for awhile...

The thing I noticed while reading it: romance books. They need a reason why the two people Destined to be together don't just get together right off. Jane Austen did this well: her people are flawed, and at the start of the book they don't want to be together thanks to totally legitimate reads of the other's character. Jennie Crusie does this well: her people are pretty good catches, but you have totally legitimate reasons to keep away like "one is a cop and one is covering for criminals". Sherwood Smith here has Perfect McDreamyson, so it falls on the protagonist to be the only flawed one, which is offputting; and the external reasons to not get together aren't explained until the last few chapters of the book. Which is another bad point: I do have an expectation that a cosy romance about becoming queen of a tiny European country can and should wrap up in one book. Cliffhanger series are just not cricket. They make you question pacing and wonder why it was that stong interesting protagonists (which she was, loved that she also read Crusie) abandoned their original plot-driving desire to help their grandmothers until 95% of the way though, or couldn't get a ride to learn the plot knowledge despite many cool and daring demonstrations of their guts until 80% of the way through the book... Eh, I guess it was trying to balance the modern conceit that love doesn't develop in a few days with the idea of driving forwards plotwise? There should have been a better way to balance that. Anyway, it is nearly a good enough book, nice descriptions of Parisian accents and escaping weirld old-world stuff during WWII and learning about past family tragedies and all. Secret tunnel!

Oh right, and then several weeks ago I rented "Tokyo Godfathers". It was sweet! And odd! But not too odd. By Satoshi Kon, animated, about three homeless people in Tokyo who find an abandoned baby and set out to find its parents and discover why it was abandoned. I dearly love Miss Hana, the MTF transgendered character. And the other characters: also great. Admirable while still being very very flawed. The story is a series of unlikely events, but it's fun and everything ends up connected and the resulting fairy-tale ambiance is refreshing. Set at Christmastime, in case you need another odd slightly-related-to-Christmas movie after "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang". Very well done animation; backgrounds lovely, character expressions great. I wonder what it means that the Japanese word for "homeless" is apparently "homarisu".
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