REVIEW: Men in Black 3

I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Men in Black 3.  That feeling only deepened in the first few minutes, as I watched an opening scene which raised more questions than it answered.  Worse yet, it seemed as though all of my problems from the previous movie would remain.  Tommy Lee Jones was still back.  Will Smith was still cracking bad jokes.  And though I didn’t know when I’d see him, I just knew Frank the Pug would make another guest appearance at some point.  I could feel the premonition of coming “comic relief” pain taunting me with maddening certainty.  But there was nothing for it.  I had bought my ticket, and I wasn’t about to walk out of the movie.  So I settled back to await the inevitable inferiority of a second sequel.

Imagine my surprise when, about twenty minutes into the movie, I found myself enjoying it.  From that point on, the movie only improved.  They just don’t make inevitability like they used to, I guess.  Serves me right for judging a book by its cover.

There will be massive spoilers ahead, so don’t read on if you’re not prepared to hear all.  But for those people who want to see and judge for themselves, I’ll leave you with this thought:  Men in Black 3 is the pleasant surprise of the summer movie season so far.  What’s more, though I’m sure mine will be the minority opinion, it’s actually my favorite of the franchise.  Where the first movie was a fun action romp that missed a few opportunities to be something deeper, this one takes advantage of its opportunities to humanize its characters, creating a few moments of genuine feeling amidst the very successful action and comedy portions.  And it’s definitely an improvement over the loathsome quagmire that was the second movie.  Though I doubt it will make enough money to justify a fourth entry, Men in Black 3 will at the very least send out the franchise on a high note. (more…)

Published in: on June 4, 2012 at 11:57 pm  Leave a Comment  
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REFLECTION: Men in Black II

I have a belief that every film can be summed up in a single well-chosen adjective if you try hard enough.  Fortunately, when it comes to Men in Black II, you don’t have to try hard.  It’s more a matter of which word really sums it up.  “Uninspired,” perhaps?  “Feeble” and “amateurish” would also be good choices.  But when we get right down to it, the word you’re looking for is “insulting.”

It’s common knowledge that sequels are generally worse than the original movie.  Even allowing for a quality dropoff between installments, though, MiBII still fails to live up to expectations.  For many years, I clung to the hope that this film would kill off the franchise.  Amazingly, it did not.  But I promise you it wasn’t for lack of effort.  It’s almost as if Robert Gordon, Barry Fanaro, and the additional raft of uncredited writers who did polishing duty on this turd spent weeks taking careful note of everything that made the original film so popular and fun, just so they would have an exhaustive bible to consult when doing the exact opposite.

For example: (more…)

Published in: on May 27, 2012 at 11:59 pm  Comments (2)  
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REFLECTION: Men in Black

So why am I reviewing a 15-year-old kid-oriented action/sci-fi flick?  I could tell you that it was because I was low on my quota of hyphens for the month, and the previous sentence helped me get rid of four more of them.  But that would be a lie.  I use considerably more hyphens than the average person.  My quota gets met and exceeded month in and month out.

Obviously, the real reason is that I’m heading off to see Men in Black 3 today.  Since I hadn’t seen either of the first two films in years, I thought I would rewatch them to get myself back in the mood.  And since I was going to watch them anyway, I thought it wouldn’t hurt to get a couple blog posts out of the experience.

This isn’t going to be a full-fledged review, though, so much as it is a reflection on the original Men in Black.  When I watched it as a teenager, it was one of my favorite movies of all time.  Coming back to it fifteen years later is a great benchmark for measuring how much I’ve changed.  As it turns out, that’s quite a bit.  Time has altered my perceptions of the movie so that while I can still see what my teenaged self loved about Men in Black, and I can even still share the experience at a couple of points, I still long for something deeper and mourn what I see as some missed opportunities. (more…)

Published in: on May 27, 2012 at 4:28 pm  Leave a Comment  
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REVIEW: Stories from the Quiet War

World-building is an area of writing you hear a lot about when you read speculative fiction.  Yet it also proves to be a seldom-addressed aspect of the stories many writers actually tell.  How many planets have we seen in science-fiction where everything was “just like Earth, but with” a single relatively unimportant difference?  How many fantasy novels seem to take place in a generic sword-and-sandal era?  Don’t think I don’t see you nodding grimly on the other side of cyberspace.  You know what I’m saying is true.

Usually writers seem only to be interested in a particular story that has caught their fancy, so they write a world around that story and then fill in a generic background for everything that doesn’t need to be rendered in close detail.  And when you see writing that deviates from this norm, it tends to the other extreme:  the world is all-consuming, and the characters and ideas are trite clichés meant to help us explore it.  Only among masters do you find people who are interested in world-building for its own sake, and who also have the desire to use those worlds as vehicles for powerful stories.

Well, my friends, you’re in for a treat today.  Paul McAuley is such a master.  And Stories from the Quiet War, which contains five short works ranging from a medium-short story to a novella, has everything you could ever want from near-future science fiction. (more…)

Published in: on May 25, 2012 at 8:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

Thoughts on Writing Ideas, and Related Links

I’m writing again.

You have no idea how good it feels to say that.

More to the point, I’ve learned from my mistakes.  Part of what I did during my latest multi-month hiatus from blogging was to take a long hard look at why I suddenly found it so hard to write.  The biggest conclusion I came to:  I was working too hard on coming up with ideas, and then spending them almost as soon as I had them.  It exhausted me.

Here, let me show you an example: (more…)

Published in: on May 24, 2012 at 9:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

Vision in Science Fiction, and Other Links

Click here for a fascinating discussion on whether sci-fi is still the “big idea” genre.

Then click here for a typically thoughtful post from James over at Big Dumb Object.

Then click here for my own unworthy thoughts. (more…)

Published in: on May 23, 2012 at 9:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

What’s Your Universe?

Yesterday I posted a link to a piece on high-risk careers in the types of fiction we love so much.  That got me to thinking about something other than careers.  If I could live in any fictional universe of my acquaintance, which universe would I live in?  So I decided to answer the question.

Immediately eliminated:  any fantasy universe that takes place in the distant past, or in any sort of pre-modern civilization.  I like my creature comforts too much.  Air conditioning is lovely.  Sorry, Middle-Earth.

None of Joss Whedon’s fantasy works, thank you.  I would either be the person chased by the monster, the person chasing the monster, or the monster.  None of those types has a high survival rate.

There’s no point in choosing to live in an insular sci-fi world unless you’re one of the ones on the inside.  So Dr. Who would only be fun if I got to travel with Dr. Who.  And that would eventually end with me getting ditched anyhow.

The Star Wars universe pre-Empire has a lot of creature comforts in the heart of the Republic, so it might not be a bad choice, except that I would then have a high probability of living in the Star Wars universe during the Empire.  That would be no fun.  And I always have to keep in mind that I probably wouldn’t be rich in these worlds.  You want to choose the ones with the best middle-class lifestyle.

I would not look good with a comically large mouth.  No anime.

The Federation has hundreds of planets, and seems to be relatively at peace.  The technology level is high, too.  I would be in a good environment even if I didn’t serve aboard a starship.  So I suppose that has to be my choice.  As long as I can stay away from ships named Enterprise, I could live a long and happy life with no disturbances.

What about you?  What world would you choose?

Published in: on May 22, 2012 at 8:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

It’s Story Day here at my blog…

Via Grasping for the Wind, a story called “The Old Equations” which is one of the finalists for the Sturgeon Award.  I started reading it just because the title reminded me so much of “The Cold Equations,” and I now have the feeling that was deliberate.  Check out the story (language alert), and some of the other nominees.  I’ll be writing up a review of a story collection from one of the other nominees on Friday.

A fun interview with Brad R. Torgersen.

I can’t believe I’ve overlooked this for almost a month, but it happens sometimes.  Here’s a solid reason to write a novella.  I have a feeling that novellas are going to gain in popularity as the Kindle market continues to expand.

Another take on The Avengers, which commits apostasy by declaring it to be only sort of awesome.

Finally, an interesting if (I think) somewhat optimistic essay on the forthcoming Snow White movie.  I suppose I will go to see it myself, though I don’t have high hopes.  Most of the cast looks fine, but Kristen Stewart…perhaps not.  And I have to ask whether the universe really needed a darker version of Snow White featuring the title character in armor.

Published in: on May 22, 2012 at 6:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

REVIEW: Battleship

What?  No submarine?

That is far from my biggest problem with Battleship, Hasbro’s $200 million attempt to show the entire world that Michael Bay’s aesthetic is not difficult to imitate provided you have no shame and access to $200 million.  But it’s a problem nonetheless.  After all, if you’re going to spend so much money to adapt one of the most famous board games of all time into a film, you might as well throw in everything the board game has to offer.

Which, when you think about it, isn’t much.  “Battleship” was never meant to be made into a film.  The board game has no plot, it has no characters, and it has no discernable setting – the three most critical elements of any movie.  It consists solely of two players, each trying to sink their opponent’s naval fleet before their opponent can do the same to them.  And it wouldn’t make for very scintillating cinema to watch anonymous officers on the bridge of an unspecified ship pore over an ocean chart before gravely announcing, “D-2.”  (Though we get a scene much like that in this film.)

Still, every bad idea has to be tried at least once, and I suppose I have to give the producers credit for letting their imaginations run free.  If you had put a gun to my head and forced me to write a screen treatment for Battleship, I suppose I would have come up with a variation on Run Silent, Run Deep that went like this.  During WWII, two opposing naval forces of equal strength encounter inclement weather somewhere in the Arctic Circle.  The weather not only keeps them in the area, but makes their onboard radars useless.  They are forced to fire blindly into the darkness, hoping against hope that they will sink the enemy fleet first.  It’s not exactly the script for Citizen Kane, I admit.  But if you fill it out with a few characters and set up the circumstances just right (low ammunition, some prize the enemy forces both want to claim first), it would make a not-totally-awful adaptation.

I never would have thought of aliens, though. (more…)

Published in: on May 21, 2012 at 11:19 pm  Comments (1)  
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I haven’t done a links post in a while…

…and you were probably hoping it would stay that way.

Well, too bad.

If you were recently sucked into a fictional universe and need employment, or if you moved to a fictional universe because you thought there might be a better job market there, Topless Robot has a list of high-risk sci-fi/fantasy careers you might want to avoid.  “Red-shirt” only comes in at #4.  Impossible, I say!  (Via Grasping for the Wind.)

Cracked.com (always NSFW) has a geek-heavy piece on how being an obsessive fanboy can gain you fame.  I’m sure most readers of this blog will be more interested in the David Tennant section of the piece than any other.  I, however, am absolutely floored that Evanna Lynch was not a professional actress.

The trailer for a new Green Arrow series is here, and overall it looks much better than the small-screen Wonder Woman series of last year (about which I previously blogged here).  But is Green Arrow a big enough name to carry his own show?  Especially when it is named simply Arrow?  I wonder.

Finally, as a nod to Elizabeth Segrave, your moment of Star Wars zen.

P.S.:  Later tonight, I’ll post a review of the new movie Battleship.  Do you want a little image preview?

Published in: on May 21, 2012 at 7:47 pm  Leave a Comment