Linda Nagata: the blog at Hahví.net


Archive for the 'Movies' Category

Ekaterina: The Rise of Catherine the Great

Friday, October 13th, 2017

Recommended Television Series:

When Ron’s away I tend to surf Amazon Fire TV for something new, something different. A few nights ago I decided to check out a series called Ekaterina: The Rise of Catherine the Great which I’d seen advertised in a recent Amazon Prime email. I was stunned to find this was a Russian production in the Russian language, with English subtitles. I was just as surprised to find it riveting.

The production is gorgeous, the actors are incredibly talented, and the subtitles are very well done. The latter makes the story easy to follow, though I did need to keep the remote control close at hand as I had to occasionally jump back or pause to read all the dialogue.

If you’ve got Amazon Prime, give this series a try. I’d like to know what you think.

I’ve been pondering the question of why Ekaterina seemed like more than just another costume drama, and I think that a large part of the reason is the way women are represented. The story starts with Catharine’s (Ekaterina in Russian) arrival at St. Petersburg, there to marry the heir to a throne presently held by a woman, Elizaveta.

The character of Elizaveta is fascinating — a powerful woman who is quite firmly in charge and ruthless in many ways, but not a stereotype of an evil queen by any means.

Ekaterina is similarly complex. She is presented in a very positive light as a brilliant young woman. Just sixteen years old at the start, she is naive but determined to make her new role in the world work. Ultimately she finds that task to be impossible, and along the way adapts new strategies.

Despite the beauty of the setting, the women, their lovers, their clothing, the story is very blunt about the one real purpose of a “princess bride” — she exists to bear a child who will inherit the throne. I like that this is not glossed over.

The story also engages with the incessant conflicts among the European powers, the careful political decisions in how potential heirs are treated, and rivalries at court. But this is strictly a story of the aristocracy, with only occasional mentions of the Russian people.

If Amazon Prime eventually hosts season two, I’ll be watching.

Short Review: The Accountant

Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

It’s been ages since I’ve been to a movie theater, but yesterday circumstances worked out and Ron and I went to see The Accountant, starring Ben Affleck. The film’s summary description begins:

Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is a math savant with more affinity for numbers than people. Behind the cover of a small-town CPA office, he works as a freelance accountant for some of the world’s most dangerous criminal organizations.

Ron and I were still debating which movie to see while we were standing in line to buy tickets. I was Googling this film, the new Jack Reacher, and Deep Water Horizon, trying to determine which were filmed with “shaky cam.” Have I ever mentioned that I loathe shaky cam? I get motion sickness, watching it. The Bourne Ultimatum was the worst, and since then I’ve tried to avoid shaky cam, not always successfully. It’s my firm opinion that a well-written, well-made thriller does not require an unsteady point of view to keep the audience awake — and The Accountant is an excellent example of this.

Of the three movies, only The Accountant was clearly mentioned as not being shaky cam, so that’s the one we went to see — and I’m glad we did. Both Ron and I gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Fair warning: this is a violent, morally ambiguous story. That said, it’s not your standard, clichéd thriller. I found it well written, and I admired the way flashbacks were used to gradually bring in the back story — ultimately not in the way I’d expected. Filming, acting, and sound track were all well done.

Recommended!

Crabby Movie Reviews

Monday, June 6th, 2016

I used to come down with nasty head colds fairly often, but for the past many years it’s been rare. I’d like to credit an improved immune system for that, but logically, it’s mostly because I no longer have small children in the house.

Alas, I’ve finally been struck low again. I was supposed to spend the past three nights in the backcountry cabins of Haleakala Crater, but I bowed out when I felt a cold coming on. Neither brain nor body wanted to work on the novel, so instead I did some reading and watched two popular movies that I’d never seen before. Here are some brief, spoiler-filled thoughts on the latter:

Ex Machina
Given that I write science fiction about artificial intelligence, you’d think I would have been one of the first to watch this movie, but from the trailer it was pretty clear that Ex Machina was a bulls-eye hit on one of my pet peeves: men building pretty sex dolls. This goes back to the first Stepford Wives movie. I remember very little about the specifics of it, beyond the basic idea that actual women just aren’t good enough, or are too challenging, or not compliant enough, or something. It’s irritating.

And of course this is exactly what Ex Machina is about. It’s not about artificial intelligence. It’s about misogyny. It’s about women being possessed and controlled and refined towards some sort of ideal, compliant doll … until “womanly wiles” are used to deliver a comeuppance.

That said, I thought the movie was extremely well done – well written, gorgeously filmed, and well acted. I would just much rather see a film where the women start from a baseline of equal standing and go forth to do awesome things. For example, Ripley in Alien, Sarah Connor in Terminator, Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.

The Wolf of Wall Street
Debauchery, addiction, vast fortunes, exploitation, and very accomplished film making—these are some parallels with Ex Machina, although this is a very different movie. With The Wolf of Wall Street, it’s the dark comedic voice that makes the movie so entertaining. Knowing that it’s based on a true story makes it appalling, but there you go. I’m glad I saw it, but I won’t be watching it a second time.

Excellent Short SF Film

Thursday, February 12th, 2015

If you’ve got fifteen minutes, do go watch the short film “All Her Children Fought,” now available on YouTube. It’s based on a story by Tobias Buckell, and it’s a really excellent example of what can be done on a small scale by dedicated film makers.

Toby talks about the story behind the film in this blog post: “Sometimes it pays to take a chance.”

The Movie Maleficent

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

I wanted to see the movie Maleficent from my first glimpse of the trailer. Yes, I’m an Angelina Jolie fan, and the trailer looked intriguing and beautiful, but I never did get around to seeing the movie in theaters. Then on my flight to New Zealand, after the battery on my netbook ran out, I started looking at the list of in-flight movies, and there it was. So I watched it — on a tiny screen on the back of the seat in front of me — and I loved it!

I didn’t know much about Maleficent going in. I generally won’t read reviews before trying a book or a movie myself. Once I’ve decided I want to experience either one, I want to do so with as few preconceived notions as possible, so that I can form my own opinion and gauge my own reaction. So with Maleficent, I’d seen the trailer and noticed a few positive comments on Twitter, but that was it. My impression was that the movie had not been successful — and I still don’t know if that’s the case or not.

Anyway, per usual, I’m not going to discuss the plot, but I will say that I really appreciated the evolution, complexity, and strength of the Maleficent character, and I loved the ending.

And since reviews are for reading after seeing the movie (or reading the book) I’ll say that I was surprised how the critical reception tended toward the negative. I roll my eyes at you, critics! Maleficent is a fairy tale. If you have no intrinsic objection to the fairy-tale format, then I highly recommend this movie.

Now — tell me if you liked it!

Interstellar

Monday, November 17th, 2014

Rain was falling on our last afternoon in Auckland and our flight home didn’t leave until past midnight, so to pass the time while staying warm and dry, Ron and I visited a movie theater to watch Interstellar.

My basic assessment? I enjoyed this movie! — despite squirming in my seat at some of the foundational assumptions. If you haven’t seen it yet, I encourage you to do so.

The part that bothered me the most? The idea that we could or should just throw away the Earth. The rest of this very short post might qualify as a spoiler so I’m putting it behind the front page and several lines down…. (more…)

Moon, the Film

Monday, October 21st, 2013

Moon_film_posterUntil recently, I’d never heard of the movie Moon, directed by Duncan Jones and released in 2009, but over the past year I saw it mentioned several times in social media in a generally positive way — so last night I finally sat down to watch it.

Did I like it?

I think so.

The trouble is, I really didn’t like the beginning. The opening of the film created a lot of mental resistance in me of the “I am totally not buying this” variety. But deep into the movie it suddenly became very interesting. It was as if the director wanted the opening to look like cliché (and succeeded all too well!), the better to surprise viewers later on.

* * * * SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW * * * *
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Pondering Cloud Atlas, the movie (minor spoilers)

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

I finally saw the movie Cloud Atlas yesterday and have been pondering it since, but probably not for the reasons the creators would like.

Background: I read a sample of the novel on my Kindle, enough to know some details of the initial setting, and I had heard that the film takes place across a wide span of time, with interconnected lives. Other than that, I didn’t know much about it, as I prefer reading reviews and analyses after seeing a movie, and not before.

Also, I have some pretty serious facial recognition issues, so the identity of actors in multiple roles was not at all obvious to me, which pretty much guaranteed the story would be over my head. I had to read an IMDB summary afterward to get the core idea.

But it’s not the intricate story that leaves me pondering. It’s the treatment of race and setting. A lot has been written about Caucasian actors playing Asians in the film. The logical reason for this is pretty straightforward: people are reincarnated with varying racial backgrounds and for continuity the same actors were used regardless. It’s probably fair to ask why Caucasian actors were chosen—and the film might have done better with more mixed-race actors come to think of it. Halle Berry seemed able to pull off the various roles better than most, from my perspective.

But for me personally, the 1940s fake-“Asian” look was very unsettling, very distracting. For me, it doesn’t even trigger the meme “Asian.” More like “Romulan,” or “Vulcan,” or “holy cow, what in the world are they doing…?” I am told this was an indie movie and maybe they didn’t have the budget to do it right, but given the lush, eye-candy settings throughout the film, that’s a little hard to parse.

One racial aspect that I found almost no mention of online was that the people in the opening chapters of the book who were Maori, became people of African descent in the movie. I can come up with possible reasons for this, but it still seemed like Polynesia was being “disappeared,” written out of world history and replaced by another people.

And then there was “The Big Isle.” I gather from comments I’ve heard and from Wikipedia that in the book this actually does refer to our “Big Island,” Hawaii, the largest island in the Hawaiian Archipelago. But I can tell you that was not the Big Island. There was nothing about it that recalled the Big Island: not the geology, not the flora, not the people, nothing.

I raise my hand and plead guilty to writing about places I haven’t been, but I have to presume the makers of this film could have gone to the Big Island if they wanted to. So I have to assume they found a more budget friendly location, which is fine, I understand that.

But why is every post-apocalyptic survivor on the “Big Isle” seemingly pureblood Caucasian? I don’t think it’s a big secret that here in Hawaii there are a lot of people of Hawaiian ancestry, along with many other racial groups. I also don’t think it’s a secret that here in Hawaii we tend to marry across racial lines very, very frequently (I volunteer myself as an example). For at least twenty years the standard couple in banking commercials has been Asian/Caucasian. These days it seems more unusual to see people of the same race marrying, than to see mixed marriages. So…what happened during the apocalypse to erase our mixed race society? The science-fictional mindset kicks in and I find myself wondering if a racially targeted, engineered virus wiped out all but the Caucasian purebloods…but that has nothing to do with the story. So again, I’m distracted from the actual story by the (to me) inexplicable world-building choices–which goes to show the importance of world-building.

I will try to stop pondering now. I have my own stories to write, my own world-building choices to make. I’m sure I won’t always get it right, but I’ll keep trying.

Playing Catch-Up: Battlestar Galactica

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011

The stars aligned, the Gods willed it, and suddenly the husband and I found ourselves with a Blue-ray capable Playstation, a young man who could show us how to use it, and a set of Battlestar Galactica Blue-ray DVDs in hand.

We both had vague memories of the nothing-to-brag-about 1970s version of BSG, but neither of us had seen any episodes from the “new” series. So we set out to watch the four (or is it 4.5?) seasons. We finished the series a few nights ago. I’m assuming just about everybody else out there has seen the series, but if not, BE WARNED: there are lots of spoilers after the jump!!

Here are the more memorable comments made as the series progressed:
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Source Code (the movie)

Saturday, April 2nd, 2011

The husband wanted to go see a movie; he suggested this one. We watched the trailer. “That’s completely ridiculous,” I said. We went anyway, and am I glad we did. This was an enthralling, very well done movie. So well done that I didn’t spend a moment worrying that the “science” didn’t exactly add up.

If you want to know about the plot, go watch the trailer! 😉 All I’m going to say is that I thought the last couple minutes of the movie weren’t entirely necessary, but then again, they didn’t hurt. Other than that, no complaints.

I just wish there were more movies (and books) on this level.