Monday, June 4, 2012

Snow whitely

So, I was going to review Snow White and the Huntsman (tl;dr, Theron is amazing, Stewart cannot close her mouth, the Huntsman wears the same expression the entire time, the dwarves provide comic relief).

But instead, here is a summary for your enjoyment, and, as always, spoiler alert:


A dramatic retelling of Snow White and the Huntsman

Once there was a queen, who, in an age of things like pleurisy and dropsy, undertook a very unwise walk outside during winter and came upon a rose, inexplicably blooming in the snow. Promptly stabbing herself on its thorns, which in those days meant you were going to get typhoid or gangrene and lose a limb, at least, she made a very strange mental connection between the sight of her blood and having a baby.

Which she did, because family planning was not yet a thing, and the baby looked like a baby, sort of pink-faced and squashy.

Then the baby got older.

SNOW WHITE: Aaaah a bird. Think its wing is broken.

QUEEN MUM: What, sure, true beauty is within.

SNOW WHITE: …. I am still going to be beautiful, though, right? Because if not, we’re hosed. Nobody is going to go into battle if I have bad eyesight or a bumpy nose.

QUEEN MUM: Oh yeah, sure. Otherwise this whole thing is never getting off the ground. Also, I DIE.

The king goes into battle against an army made out of black safety glass. He wins. The glass soldiers are hauling a wagon inside which a lady is chained.

KING: LADY! You are….beautiful. So I’m not even going to ask why you’re in this wagon, why these guys are made out of glass, who is commanding this mysterious army, or any of the other questions that someone with two brain cells to rub together would be wondering. MARRY ME I DEMAND IT.

EVIL QUEEN: I have ended up in the Kingdom Of The Very Dense Men. Score!

And there is a marriage.

Wedding night scene:

KING: You have all of your teeth and don’t appear to have had the pox. Works for me.

EVIL QUEEN: I know, right? Man, this reminds me of this one time I married this king. And then killed him. And took his kingdom. And killed most of his subjects. That’s kind of a funny story, how I ended up…are you listening?

KING: Pant. Pant. Gasp.

EVIL QUEEN: …fuck it.

Stabbity stabbity stab.

Several years pass. About…I don’t know, maybe eight years? Seven? In earlier versions Snow White trended way young, but I think they’re trying to avoid the pedophiliac overtones of many fairy tales. So…eight. We’ll go with that.

EVIL QUEEN’S CREEPY BROTHER: Oh my sister. You are…looking kind of tired. Eesh.

EVIL QUEEN: That’s rich. You look like you ganked your haircut from Anton Chigurh. Seriously, what is that? Are you a big Prince Valiant fan?

CREEPY BROTHER: You are MEAN. But, I still love you, in a very creepy and non-platonic way, if you know what I mean, so I have captured this toddler-faced peasant girl.

EVIL QUEEN: Slurps out toddler-faced peasant girl’s life force, or youth, or something, in a scene cribbed from the Dementors. AAAAhhhhh.
Mirror, mirror, on the wa-

MIRROR: O, let us skip it. Yes, you’re still hot, in a MILF-y kind of way, but Snow White doesn’t need a solid eight hours to not have undereye bags, so. That’s what it is.

EVIL QUEEN: EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAA. BRING ME SNOW WHITE. Whom I have inexplicably kept alive in a tower cell for eight years, although why I didn’t kill her beforehand is a convenient plot hole. Probably because she thought I looked good in that puffed-sleeve wedding dress monstrosity.

CREEPY BROTHER: God, finally.

Creepy brother creeps up to Snow White’s tower cell, where, despite having been imprisoned for eight years, she is 1) wearing sturdy leather boots, all the better for fleeing with and 2) doesn’t seem to have experienced any muscle atrophy, which is also weird.

CREEPY BROTHER: Oh, hello.

SNOW WHITE: I’m just going to pretend you don’t have your hand under my jerkin, or whatever this bodice-like thing is called. AH HAH I ESCAPE.

There is a running scene through the castle. Snow White makes it out (duh). There is a horse waiting for her, which she vaults onto, even though she has no saddle, but this horse is very cooperative, so THEY RIDE, then the horse gets stuck in quicksand, so she escapes into the EVIL FOREST.

SNOW WHITE: This…looks a lot like a higher-budget version of Princess Bride. Uck, what is that smell?

The forest produces a noxious mist.

SNOW WHITE: I am…tripping balls. (passes out)

Meanwhile, back at the castle.

EVIL QUEEN: RAGE RAGE RAAAAAAAAAAAGE.

CREEPY BROTHER: cower cower

EVIL QUEEN: ONE SIMPLE THING. I ask you to do ONE SIMPLE thing and you totally bollocks it up. WHAT I can’t even, bring me someone MANLY.

Cut scene to the drunky-pants Huntsman. Cut scene to castle.

HUNTSMAN: Lady, what. As you can see by my scruffy ponytail and leather pants, I am not to be trifled with. What’s the deal?

EVIL QUEEN: I can see that behind your scruffy demeanor, you are deeply saddened by the untimely death of your young, lovely wife. A death I had nothing whatsoever to do with, and I can conveniently bring her back, soooo. DO WE HAVE A DEAL.

HUNTSMAN: Yeah, sure. Whatever.

EVIL QUEEN: ….that’s it?

HUNTSMAN: I guess.

EVIL QUEEN: Are you…are you going to wear that same expression throughout this entire movie? Is your face…is it stuck that way?

HUNTSMAN: Yeah. This, like, vaguely worried looking expression is the only one I can make. I’m basically a human Golden Retriever.

EVIL QUEEN: O…kay.

The Huntsman and Creepy Brother crash through the underbrush with a posse of baddies in pursuit of Snow White, who is battling the first hangover of her young life.

HUNTSMAN: AH HAH! Shit, I am captivated by your beau- NO. MISSION AT HAND. (grabs Snow White) Check it out, creepy brother. WHERE MY WIFE?

CREEPY BROTHER: HAHAAAAhahaha. What? Seriously? Have you somehow not noticed that wagonloads of young, comely peasant lassies have been vanishing into the castle and not returning, while the queen isn’t aging, and it never occurred to you that maybe YOUR young wife, who mysteriously vanished, was one of them? God, you are a dipshit…wait, why am I telling you this while you’re still holding onto Snow White? Tactical error.

HUNTSMAN: RUUUUUUUUUN.
Swordfight ensues. Snow White and the Huntsman get away.

HUNTSMAN: …..
SNOW WHITE: …. Soooo. What happens now?
HUNTSMAN: Uh. I think this is where we have the scene where we both declare how we can’t trust each other, and yet there is obviously SMOLDERING PASSION.

SNOW WHITE: RIGHT!

That happens. They keep going into the forest. And going. And they get to the end of it, and there’s another scene with some other people which is pretty boring, and the Huntsman figures out who she is, and then of course abandons her because GRIEF, but then the Creepy Brother and his goons return, and blah blah blah.

ANYWAY.

HUNTSMAN: HOLY SHIT dwarves.

DWARVES: Not really. We’re actually all normal-sized actors, made small by the magic of CGI. Apparently there weren’t any actual dwarf actors.

HUNTSMAN: …Peter Dinklage?

DWARVES: You’re kidding, right? He’d never lower himself to be in a movie with such wooden dialogue.

HUNTSMAN: Yeah, you’re right. Anyway, this is the Princess. So, help us.

DWARVES: NO.

Lead Dwarf: Wait. I sense something. I sense…can it be? It is! She is the ONE.

Dwarf: The…what?

Other dwarf: The one. Like Jesus. Or Neo. You know. Don’t question it, otherwise we’re never going to get to the end of this movie.

They continue, still trailed by the Creepy Brother. They enter….a MAGICAL FOREST. A magical forest that is filled with pollen. And fairies.

SNOW WHITE: ….what…IS that?

Dwarf: Fairy. And mystical woodland creatures.

SNOW WHITE: Are they going to be helpful at some point? Put on a tiny suit of armor? Swing a little cocktail sword?

Dwarf: What do you think this is, Narnia? No. But check it out. DEER GOD.

SNOW WHITE: This looks….vaguely familiar. Actually really familiar. You guys ever see Princess Mononoke? Seriously this deer thing is totally a rip-off of the deer god. Also, where are we going with this scene? None of these things ever show up again. I’m not really sure how the benevolent force of nature is supposed to help me if nobody here knows how to like, lead an army or build a trebuchet.

She has a point, but no one wants to admit it after wasting the CGI budget on some Fern Gully-looking fairy creatures that resemble humanoid tree frogs and look like something I would really want to squash. They continue on into the forest. Oh shit, right, back story. Prince William, Snow White’s childhood friend, has infiltrated the Creepy Brother’s band of misfits and is now on Team Snow White.

Meanwhile, back at the castle:

EVIL QUEEN: Are you KIDDING me. Are you…I can’t…you know what? CROWS, ASSEMBLE, AND GRAB THAT APPLE.

In the snowy forest:

SNOW WHITE: Uh. This is awkward, being together after eight years. You’ve been all living in your dad’s castle. I’ve been stuck in a smelly cell. Thanks.

WILLIAM: I know, I am totally sorry. Dad feels really bad too, for what it’s worth. Here, have an apple. Don’t ask how I got an apple in the middle of this snowy forest, or why I was hauling it around with me this whole time. Just…eat it.

SNOW WHITE: OKAY.

EVIL QUEEN: Aaahahahahaha stupid. Look, this isn’t personal, but we are several centuries from inventing Botox or those fillers, and I am really, really not about to get wrinkly.

They get interrupted by the Huntsman and the real William. The Evil Queen takes off for her castle, wrinklier than ever, and demands a new truckload of nubile peasant maidens to take the edge off.

HUNTSMAN: Crap. Well, this was a non-starter.

They haul her back to William’s dad’s castle.

HUNTSMAN: You are…so beautiful. Even dead. And I’m drunk. Well, not drunk drunk. But, like, that kind of drunk where your inhibitions are lowered, you know?

AUDIENCE: I DO NOT LIKE WHERE THIS IS GOING, THIS IS KIND OF DATE-RAPEY AND NECROPHILIA-Y.

HUNTSMAN: smooch

SNOW WHITE: Wakes up. Goes outside. Aaah. Huh. Okay, well, honestly, I would have expected you would be burning me at the stake right about now. And I have no training or tactical understanding, but, all that aside, would you like to join me in a ride across completely open, undefended land towards a heavily fortified castle while boiling oil and arrows rain down upon us? IRON WILL MELT BUT IT WILL WRITHE INSIDE ITSELF.

CROWD: …….what?

SNOW WHITE: WHO’S WITH ME?

CROWD: Did she just….iron will…I don’t – is that a metaphor? Are we the iron? But, like, the queen is writhing? Is there a context that I missed?

EVERYONE: WE RIIIIIIIDE.

And they do! Across a beach. With no cover. Into a hail of arrows and boiling oil. BRILLIANT TACTICIAN, that Snow White is.

Fight. Fight. Fight. CLIMACTIC BATTLE SCENE

SNOW WHITE: EVIL QUEEEEN!!!! (rushes at her with sword)

EVIL QUEEN: Psah. (sidesteps)

SNOW WHITE: I don’t…I don’t get it. Why is everyone Team Evil Queen? I’m virginal. I’m like thisclose to having a unicorn pop up and demand I rub its horn or something.

EVIL QUEEN: You’re boring.

SNOW WHITE: What?

EVIL QUEEN: You heard me. I have a backstory. My character actually has some dimensions. I had a traumatic childhood. I am deeply damaged. You spent eight years staring out of the window of the North Tower. You can’t even swing a sword! Also I can’t figure out how the director thought that you turning into Katniss Everdeen without even a training montage was going to be believeable.

SNOW WHITE: (stab)

EVIL QUEEN: I DIE.

There’s a coronation scene. Snow White makes eyes at both William and the Huntsman. Mercifully, it ends and we all get to stretch our legs.

FINAL VERDICT: C. Charlize Theron tears it up, Kristen Stewart is boring.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Bad fruit

So there's this thing going around. I think I've written before about how, while I wouldn't necessarily say that science fiction is one of my favorite genres, many of my favorite authors are classified as science fiction authors. (Also science fiction is kind of the now! I'm getting frikkin' laser beams shot into my eyes in a few days so I can finally see. That's pretty sweet, although I'm holding out for my jet pack and/or personal teleportation device.)

Which, science fiction has become this sort of big umbrella term. The boundaries of the genre are pretty elastic, I find, but there's this interesting sub (sub?) - genre of science fiction (or, as we're now calling it, speculative fiction) that creates alternative histories.

Kind of like playing a big what-if game with history. Interestingly, World War II is a pretty popular era in this subgenre, which I guess makes sense, since there were huge leaps in technology, and also some terrible experimentations going on.

Which! Brings me to Ian Tregillis' Bitter Seeds. The first installment in a trilogy (book two is due out next month), Bitter Seeds follows Raybould Marsh, a British secret operative trying to dismantle a terrifying Nazi experiment.

Which! Okay, so - in the 1930s and 1940s Germany wrapped itself up in this incredibly bizarre, almost entirely invented mystic, proto-pagan, neo-Germanic national myth. Basically, Germans imagined a national history and began teaching it as fact, inventing this 'pure' Germanic race that had been tainted by foreign influences. At the same time, a lot of bogus, pseudo-scientific disciplines began popping up, and an obsession with the idea of creating a superrace developed.

Germans weren't the only ones - the Soviets, although not dragging around quite as much racial claptrap baggage, seriously thought that you could develop superhuman powers like telekineses or telepathy.

In Tregillis' novel, the Germans have succeeded. An aristocratic mad-scientist type, Doktor von Westarp, has been collecting orphans and performing gruesome experiments in a bid to awaken their Willenskraeft. Using a combination of torture, brain surgery, and a battery that harnesses the Goetterelektron, von Westarp kills a whole lotta kids, but manages to make a handful of supermenschen: prescient, sociopathic Gretel, her brother, Klaus, who can become insubstantial and run through a building or stop a heart, invisible woman Heike, the pyrokinetic 'salamander' Reinhardt, and brain-damanged Kammler, who can create a swathe of destruction with his mind.

Hooooowever, their powers are dependent on a continues supply of the Goetterelektron, and they have some interesting limitations (Klaus can't breathe in his insubstantial state, for example).

With the Reichsbehoerde at the Nazi's command, things look really dicey for the English. After France falls, they're separated from the German forces only by the tiny English Channel.

This is where it gets really speculative. A small group of warlocks step to the defense of the Empire, summoning the capricious, omnipresent Eidolons, invisible demonic forces who are willing to aid England's war effort...for a price. (Actually the Eidolons remind me of Mieville's Weaver spiders, noodling along the interstices of our reality and confounding anyone who tries to bargain with them.)

The plot revolves around Marsh, his damaged, aristocratic warlock friend, Will, and the prescient Gretel, who is playing a much larger game than Marsh or her handlers can comprehend.

I really liked this book. Tregillis has a very keen eye for historic detail, and his characters are flawed, often disgusting, sometimes heroic, and very complicated. The Reichbehoerde are saved from caricature by their weaknesses and fragility. Tregillis has a good feel for the horrible bargains that are driven during war.

But, and this is probably better left to people who are, I don't know, conversant in discussing literature, but I felt distinctly uncomfortable reading a novel about World War II that never mentioned the Holocaust. I wonder about the ethics of this particular genre of speculative fiction, but that discussion may better left until Tregillis finishes his trilogy.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Shake it

I think everyone should just take a minute to watch Brittany Howard tear it up here:

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bugs in the system


Can we talk about nanotechnology?

Seriously, when is it ever a good idea. It's as bad as anything that starts out with "on a routine salvage mission." Do not ever go on a routine salvage mission (especially not if Ludacris is playing a supporting role) because you are going to end up with alien eggs in your torso, or being chased by a flash-frozen Dracula, or something. Or with flash-frozen Dracula eggs in your torso, I don't know.

Anyway! Agh, nanotechnology, right? Steven Gould's 7th Sigma is set in a futuristic American Southwest, where tiny, self-replicating, solar-powered bugs devour anything metal, and if you're unfortunate to accidentally step on one and damage it, the otherwise more-or-less peaceful bugs turn into a fatal swarm and will straight up perforate you.

7th Sigma is an uneasy blend of science fiction and coming-of-age story, and although Gould's little bugs are pretty neat, Sigma gets tripped up by a one-dimensional hero straight out of a spaghetti Western.

Orphan(ish) Kimble hooks up with Ruth Monroe, an out-of-work sensei headed to a settlement to start her own dojo. In exchange for food and lessons, Kimble helps Monroe establish her school in the scrubby desert near the Rio Puerco, but Kimble technically still has one living parent, which makes him a runaway. When an inquisitive Ranger shows up, Kimble cuts a deal to work as an informant in exchange for the Ranger's silence. Kimble would be more interesting if he wasn't always self-consciously Doing The Right Thing, which gets boring after a while, and most of the action seems to take place off the page, which scatters the narrative. Gould also gives the reader an intriguing glimpse into what may be the next stage of the bug's development, but doesn't pursue it any further.

7th Sigma is a neat little novel, if you can get past the unrelenting optimism. Tor is quickly becoming one of my favorite publishers, both for the diversity of their authors and their beautifully designed cover art.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Good vibrations

So, I am finally getting over my horrible mutant cold / general disgustingness. Well, mutant cold, at least. The general disgustingness is probably here to stay.

Got around to watching The Avengers last weekend. When you see this movie with a group of girls, it's just nonstop speculation about which one you want to sleep with.

Which. Duh. Captain Fury.

Perhaps this is not a surprise, since this is a Joss Whedon film, but I was pleased by how the movie handled Black Widow. Depending on your point of view, she's either the least or the most impressive member of the team. She doesn't have a super suit, an awesome hammer, a Brylcreemed side-part and an indestructible shield, or the ability to turn into a giant rage-monster who still manages to retain his pants, yet she still wades in and kicks ass, and even more impressively, none of the other guys question her right to be on the team. Instead of relegating Widow to a love interest, Whedon made her one of the more interesting characters.

Whiiiiich brings me to this movie, Hysteria, which I watched yesterday, by myself, because nothing says I am kind of pathetic than watching a movie about the invention of the vibrator by yourself on a Friday night. The punchline kind of writes itself.

Hysteria is, really, just a fluffy rom-com dressed up in Victorian garb with a pro-woman message. Jonathan Pryce stars as Dr. Dalrymple, who specializes in 'pelvic massage' for hysterical upper-class London wives, and Hugh Dancy plays his assistant, Mortimer Granville, who stands to inherit the practice (and the hand of Dalrymple's lovely, boring daughter Emily). A wicked case of carpal tunnel and Dalrymple's fiery suffragette daughter (Maggie Gyllenhaal) throws a wrench in Mortimer's plans, but he develops the first electric vibrator and the practice explodes (in ecstasy!).

Hysteria is almost insufferably cute, from the prim Victorian widows who flood Dalrymple's waiting room to Gyllenhaal's almost nauseatingly idealistic Charlotte. Although she gets to deliver a sermon in the courtroom where she's standing trial for assault, the movie still ends with her getting rescued from penury and spinsterhood by the puppy-faced Mortimer. Even Emily takes her jilting with surprising good grace.

Which isn't to say I didn't like it, but it's weirdly ironic that the spandex-clad Black Widow seems like Andrea Dworkin when compared with Gyllenhaal's Charlotte. If Black Widow needed a vibrator, she'd go make her own. OUT OF DEAD MEN'S BONES.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Manly men

Is anyone else as excited as I am about Mansome? I sure hope so.



You are all just jealous because I get to run my fingers through this glorious face-pelt whenever I want.



Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ye olde sexy times

So, is sex sexier today than it was four hundred years ago?

I don't know. I mean, maybe? Because we have things like floss and toothbrushes and anti-aging cream and spandex, so possibly? But at the same time, I feel like we also have these culturally-created expectations that are kind of ridiculous - okay, bear with me, we're going into Tangent Land - but I watched Year One (shuuuuttt upppp I never claimed to have good taste in anything) and there's a scene where Maya, a sexy cavegirl, lifts one arm and reveals - WAIT FOR IT - armpit hair.

Seriously. That's the punchline. And everyone in the audience let out a collective "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwwwuuuuuuuurgh!"


I know. According to some Republican lawmakers, ladies aren't actually human or due equal protection under the law, but we are still mammals.

Which is a roundabout way of saying, in the 1600s, probably it was not that big of a deal, but then also you may have gotten a pass for missing some teeth, too.

Anyway, Eleanor Herman's (local author! Went to Towson and lives in Maclean!) Sex With Kings is a snappy romp through the royal bedrooms of European nobility. All of the usual suspects are here, from Madame du Pompadour to the greedy and raging Lady Castlemaine to the equally greedy charlatan Lola Montez, and even wraps it up with the (former) Camilla Parker-Bowles.

Sex With Kings has sparkling prose and is sprinkled liberally with excerpts from diaries, love (and hate) letters, and snippets from diplomatic missives, such as the one that delightfully described Madame Conyngham's flashing the royal goods at a nonplussed diplomat. There are moments of pathos, particularly in Herman's description of the longsuffering Madame du Pompadour's relationship with Louis XV. Of course, royal mistresses are disposable, but du Pompadour held her position for a remarkably long time, although at great personal cost.

Sex with Kings is sometimes repetitive and is very Euro-centric - the kings of England, France, and Germany have center stage here - but it's a very intimate look into the bedrooms of Europe's kings.