Blame the Machines

alyx babyOne fine summer evening many years ago, in the days before DVDs, we rented The Thin Red Line. This was almost certainly my fault, as Kelly, generally speaking, has more sense– except in cases where Keanu Reeves is involved. After what seemed like thirty-six and a half hours of cinematic bludgeoning, we remembered we could hit the FWD button. By this means we hoped to watch the rest in fast motion until something happened, and at least come out of it knowing who’d died.

The pace of the shelling and shooting did indeed pick up. Still, fast-forwarding took another twenty five minutes. Purgatory moves faster, I’m pretty sure. This is a film, I’m fond of saying, that really captures the length of World War Two.

It’s a comment that usually brings Thin Red Line apologists out in droves to defend the earnest majesty or solemn nobility or outstanding performances or what have you you-clearly-live-in-a-parallel-world awesomeness of the film. But I had occasion, yesterday, to compare it to the French film The Fear, and nobody so much as squawked. I choose to take this as evidence of everyone realizing I was right in the first place.

In other news, I’ve spent the last couple of days fighting configuration wars with a shiny new PC laptop; the old one has been developing just a touch of age-related dementia. I might have nursed it along for quite a while, but to the extent that Chez Dua has a hardware upgrade plan, it made sense to replace it now.

The process was time consuming but largely painless–the iTunes library wheezed a little, and is still pissing me off a bit, but everything else essentially slotted into its assigned place in my ecosystem. Cloud backups made it easy.

I do 90% of my work on a tablet these days, which made the replacement less of a treat than it might otherwise have been. Still, puttering away has its pleasures, and of course the rest of my waking hours have been spent doing things like soaking in the hot tub with Kelly, sleeping late under a pile of kittenflesh, wandering around Toronto with Kelly, shopping in Chinatown for new phone cases with Kelly, and seeing weird and not entirely satisfying TIFF films with Kelly.  (Her writeups on The Fear and Eva doesn’t Sleep are here.) I liked the latter more than she did… I was intrigued by the back and forth and various interments and recoveries of Eva Peron’s body as the political winds in Argentina changed direction.

Tomorrow we will see 25 April, which is (cough) another war film. It is, in fact, an animated retelling of the battle of Gallipoli, by a female Canadian/New Zealand director named Leanne Pooley.

This be TIFF Party, or Vacation day three

qxy4aAfter a writing date, a quick trot out to the clinic for immunotherapy, and a run to the incomparably delicious Forno Cultura for lunch, we went to our first TIFF film yesterday. Its English title was In The Shadow of Women and Kelly’s thoroughly articulate and delightful write-up is here.

I’m not generally big on angsty adulterers as a topic for fiction, but Philippe Garrel’s direction was tight, the cinematography was gorgeous and, oddly, I found the sound direction very interesting. Aside from being distanced from the subject matter, my only real beef with the film was the voiceover narration, which seemed completely unnecessary. “Pierre was hurt by Manon’s having cheated on him, despite cheating himself…” No, really? So that’s why he’s being such a wankstain? Didn’t need it. What I would have loved was if the voiceover had gone in the absolute opposite direction. “Pierre was totally cool with Manon’s cheating, and acknowledged the inner depths of his own hypocrisy…” Followed by the scene where he’s all pouty and asking about her sex with the Other Dude.

Today’s international cinema experience: Starve Your Dog.

Paul Gross! In his natural habitat

imageThis is a case where the right ad, at the right time, can really hit. I saw this yesterday. I had tickets … well, maybe ten minutes later.  This triumph of the shopping spirit is the sweeter because there was just no way I was gonna see his film Hyena Road at TIFF.

So! Seeing the actor I’d choose to play Clydon Banning, in my fantasy film version of The Hidden Sea Tales? Soon this shall be knocked off my bucket list. To be replaced, in all probability, with seeing him again.

(Any comments you may have seen on Facebook about us showing up with a giant butterfly net and smokes for bait are, I assure you, highly exaggerated.)

Today is the first day of our TIFF staycation, and there’s no movie on the docket today. Thursday and Friday are fancy red-carpet premiere events. Kelly and I are mostly going to foreign films you never heard of.  We never heard of them either, so that’s lovely. We did add a horror movie to Friday – Southbound, it’s called, and it’s an anthology of five scary interlocking tales.

This. and all the other things we have tickets for this fall–it’s gonna be an amazingly entertaining autumn here in Dualand–is part of what makes Toronto feel like Alyx and Kelly Disneyland. Whee!!

Most Thrilling Monday, much thrilling news

(null)I’m so pleased that A Daughter of No Nation is included in the Charlie Jane Anders round-up, on io9, of the most thrilling SF and Fantasy books coming out this fall. It’s in great company, with books by Jim Butcher, Steven Baxter… woah, Salmon Rushdie (wasn’t expecting that!), Nnedi Okorafor, Kameron Hurley, Ann Leckie, Tanya Huff and so so many others.

Some of those fall books are coming out in mere minutes, so this week will bring you not one but two author interviews here on my site, along with a write-up about S.M. Stirling’s The Desert and the Blade.

The next couple of weeks will be entertaining and action-packed. There will be Heroine Question interviews on Wednesdays, but I’m not sure what else the blog may hold.  We’ve built a bit of downtime into the early part of the month, and chief among the things I’m looking forward to doing with that time is hitting TiFF like a movie-going anvil. Kelly and I plan to see at least 13 films. As an appetizer for that fabulous experience, we’re also going to a special event tonight, where Pacific Rim director Guillermo del Toro is introducing the 1943 adaptation of Jane Eyre as part of the Gothic Master Class he’s conducting there.

Will Orson hold his own against Toby Stephens? My assumption is no way. But I cannot wait to hear what del Toro says about the Gothic form!!

Joss Whedon, sports analogies and peeing on your allies #SFFLove

Conspiracy Keanu is into peace and love.

Conspiracy Keanu is into peace and love.

Kelly and I rewatched The Avengers: Age Of Ultron not long ago, and there are things about it that are just plain better on rewatch. The pieces of the plot make vastly more sense when you know where everyone ends up. In an fast-moving and fairly noisy movie, there are lines of dialog that just slide past me.

Turned out a few of them actually mattered.

The problematic stuff with Natasha is still problematic, no doubt about it. You can choose to believe that every word she utters to Bruce is, on some level, exactly what she thinks he needs to hear. There’s a little bit of set-up for this, and it’s a reading that can serve as the sugar necessary to make her monster speech go down. Still, if we give the film this reading, we do it knowing that we’re superimposing meaning, adding in stuff that isn’t really on the screen.

And, wow, Bruce really should have replied that not having ovaries and or a uterus isn’t monstrous, OMG. Or that cutting them out of your baby spies, against their will, is.

For my part, I was bothered by a related disconnect between them, one Nat’s failing to acknowledge. Bruce’s position in this exchange falls somewhere in the neighborhood of I’m afraid we can’t share a normal life and have babies because what if Hulkie Junior rips out one of my silky chestnut hair locks on a particularly bad day and I go all ARRRHGHGHGH!! and then pound everyone I love, you included, into a gooey red stain?

Whereas Nat’s is I’m afraid we can’t share a normal life because I have no organs anymore that will combine your genetic material and my genetic material. How ever will we find ourselves some tiny green-eyed, red-haired Baby-Gap wearing gamma monsters to raise and love?

She’s not concerned about becoming an abusive, family-annihilating nightmare. Come on, Nat, agree that it’s not the same. He’s pointing out that of the two of you, he has way more superpower, and he’s trying to be responsible about it, and do the stand-up thing.

This movie does barely pass the Bechdel test – Nat and Laura talk about baby names. And I am, like many a fan, curious to see whether a director’s cut can restore the things that felt missing from the story.

AAoU, and particularly the above segment, threw gasoline on some commentary that had been smoldering around the Intertubes for awhile. People have been asking things like: is Joss Whedon that much of a feminist anymore? Was he ever? They’re realizing that the Serenity crew from Firefly were basically bad guys and wondering if the feminist emperor ever had clothes.

Some of this conversation is legit critical discussion, respectfully phrased. Some of it is a big ol’ Internet pile-on. (The SF community’s started talking about pile-ons, just lately, and how to fucking not, and I couldn’t be happier. Have you all seen Andrea Phillips’ How to Not Be A Bullying Mob flowchart? I heart this!)

I’m not going to argue that AAoU is a better film or a more feminist movie than you think it is. If you want to get into legit critique, and give that deeper consideration, here’s an open letter by Sara Stewart to Whedon that looks at all the women in the film.

I am, instead, going to argue a proposition that I hope many of you will buy into:

For starters: during the BtVS years, Joss Whedon was at the heart of a creative team who produced a cutting edge, explicitly feminist, heroic fantasy adventure.

Cutting edge doesn’t mean perfect, or without challenges. It simply means “The position of greatest advancement or importance. The forefront.”

If the idea of putting heroes of the female gender on our flicker boxes could be said to be some kind of distance race, Buffy ran a lot of her predecessors–fantastic fictional women who inspired us all–into the ground. She and Willow surpassed Red Sonja, Uhura, Leela, Romana, Captain Janeway, Ellen Ripley, Xena and so many more. The show set a pace that was hart to beat.

Hard, but not impossible.

Other creators started running faster. Nobody wants to be running behind the shapely spandex-clad ass of Cutting Edge forever. They want to be out in front. Otherwise, why run?

(Yes, my metaphor has bled into itself, and Buffy has somehow morphed into Joss, and they’re both being hopeless jocks. I hereby apologize for this now, which is helpful to me financially because, as you all know, Canadians who never apologize for anything do pay higher taxes.)

Where was I? Joss’s fellow TV and film creatives, running bigger, harder and faster. Meanwhile we in the stands were howling–with glee and joy and the occasional burst of fury–as our expectations rose. And rose. And rose some more. And were, occasionally, disappointed. We have been hoping for the best and making fan GIFS on Tumblr and examining strong female characters wherever they pop up. We’ve been asking if we can have more diversity. Can we have more heroes of color? Can we have female-led Marvel movies that aren’t Electra? When Imperator Furiosa punches someone in the face with her nubbins (as Nospockdasgay puts it)  or I turn on Sense8 and am confronted with what might as well be an actual snapshot–not an approximation, not a rose-colored glass half-full skewed vision–of my fucking queer GenXer life… well, holy shit, right? We see a world created in this massively expensive and entertaining art form that is welcoming. That is delightful and kaleidoscopic and more complete than the tunnel we’ve been staring down since the days of Star Trek and Charlie’s Angels.

We are insatiable. We want more. We want better. We want to be surprised and blown away and damned well included.

And the creators respond. Art is a conversation. People coopt and embroider upon the best that front-runner can do. So George Miller and the Wachowskis and J. Michael Straczynski have pulled ahead of Joss Whedon, for now. Look at the cool things they made, and rejoice!

Is this a reason to throw dog doots all over the track?

These things have a natural rhythm. Having one person drive that cutting edge forever would, in itself, be limiting. If Joss kicked forward our standards in the Nineties, how much of a shame would it be if nobody had, by now, exceeded him? The fact that people are busting their buns to give us things that make BtVS look hokey and retrograde in comparison? Hey, that’s cause for joy!

Falling into the pack for awhile… this may not be the sexiest phase of the artistic life cycle, but is comfortable ongoing success really the thing that makes you try harder? After seeing the second and third Matrix movies, I forgot about the Wachowskis. I would never in a billion years have expected them to turn up in my living room and blow my mind to smithereens. Maybe I should have. Maybe I should’ve been sending them ransom-style cut-out notes of encouragement over the years.


Joss Whedon has put his money and his mouth as well as his creative visions on the side of the angels for years. Surely we can criticize AAoU and all his other work while allowing him a little space, now and then, here and there, to be imperfect. We know he has the talent and the resources to create something, some bright future day, that could jolt the whole media-creating pack of his peers into the next breakthrough. Won’t that be fantastic? Imagine how much you’ll love it! Take a breath, send him a good vibe, and keep an open mind. Give the man time to pick up his pace.

And, by the way, M. Night Shyamalan and Sam Raimi, innit time you laced up your running booties and gave us all a run for the money?