sunnuntai, 6. lokakuu 2019

Ad Astra (2019)

Haven’t seen any proof of this, but I would not be the least surprised if it came out that Brad Pitt was sour he did not get the lead role in Blade Runner 2049 and he pulled all strings and threw his Hollywood weight around until he got Ad Astra into production and himself cast in the main role. These two movies share a lot of similarities: visual worship of concrete architecture, male loneliness and emotional disconnect, being reduced to one’s job… but I preferred Pitt’s rendition of the male cyborg (called Roy, to emphasise the link to the Blade Runner movies) over Gosling’s and found Ad Astra more straightforward and less pompous overall. 

 

It is regrettable space is reduced to a metaphor of inner space in so many of today’s ostensibly space movies. This once profound comparison is by now a giggle-inducing cliche. To me the main value of this movie was not the completely predictable journey of self-discovery and relationship trauma disassembly. It was just an excuse to indulge in a visual and auditory feast of architecture and technology. The set designs were amazingly detailed and impressive, and the movie camera practically made love to the various surfaces, angles and control devices. Sounds of gloved fingers gently caressing and pushing buttons, technical fabrics sliding across each other, breath inside a sealed spacesuit helmet, all very intimate, amid Moon pirate car chases and hijacking a rocket about to lift off, create a delightful contradiction. ASMR porn, if one wants to be crass.

 

The whole movie was like arthouse-lite. Silent stares, internal whispered monologue a la Terence Malick, 'external as intenal' symbolism etc., but nothing is left hanging, everything is spelled out, and high-action scenes are expertly dosed along the storyline to keep the audience’s blood sufficiently saturated with adrenaline. Pitt’s character, the abandoned son of a famous astronaut, spoon-feeds his thought processes and their results to the viewer. Indeed, the movie would have been much improved if the monologue had been a tad less obvious. He seems to grasp his own motives already in the beginning of the movie so well there really is no need to go to the ends of the solar system to disentangle them. Pitt’s expression in close-up, all neutral and competent, except for the slight nervous shiver underneath his eyes, would have been much more effective without the monologue: “they are using me”, “was he always broken”, etc. He is a good actor, which the director does not seem to truly trust. 

 

The most touching parts were the recurring emotional self-assessments demanded of Roy. This dragging out, dissecting and measuring of the soul for one’s job, being forced to mentally expose possible weaknesses and imperfections for inhuman scrutiny, while knowing the range of acceptable variation is extremely narrow, explains (and for once without having to spell it out) why Roy McBride is closed off, emotionally stunted, more machine than human. Any outside impulse might endanger the empty calm he has spent years perfecting. That it is at the price of being unable to truly connect with other human beings… well, it is not his personal failing, but a sensible adaptation to the circumstances. Perhaps it was useful to let go of the trauma of being abandoned by his father, but was that really what was kept him and his wife apart? Or was it the all-encompassing and endless demands of total compliance of his job? And what will happen now that he’s in touch with his new-found emotions? Without them, he was superb in what he did. Are thirteen in a dozen emotions that every Dick and Jane have really worth sacrificing his unflinching competence? This guy who can fall off a space elevator, grab the wheel of a Moon vehicle at full speed while his spacesuit is punctured, land a malfunctioning rocket manually, all without his heartbeat noticeably being affected, shouldn’t we celebrate his choices instead of trying to correct him? If we want to go to the Moon, Mars, Neptune and beyond, we very well may need people who are cogs in the machine, and their rewards different from the usual ones. The movie warns of the danger of being engulfed by one’s professional obsessions, and this is certainly something to be watchful of, but surely there are other solutions than averaging everyone to the same emotional input and output.

 

Final verdict: ignoring the trite lesson about the importance of human connection (really if you want this lesson, My Little Ponies Friendship is Magic does it better), the movie is an elegy to technology and pragmatic architecture. Various layers of steel, fabric, concrete and plastic keep us perhaps separated from each other, but also alive in difficult environments. These materials are gently caressed by the camera’s gaze, and the result is strangely but pleasantly sensual. Rarely has the pressing of the launch button of a nuclear device been presented so that is feels physically satisfactory. After watching the movie, one feels heightened appreciation for switches and synthetic materials and perhaps even an unexpected desire to put on thick rubber gloves and run the encased fingers across a concrete wall. If that’s what you want, go and enjoy this uneven but interesting movie.

tiistai, 17. syyskuu 2019

The Green War

From the association of biological weapons manufacturers

 

Contrary to recent slick advertisement campaigns would like to lead the general public to believe, neutron bombs are far from sustainable. It is true that the ratio of kills per kilo of co2eq is fairly high, but to focus solely on that is to ignore the grave harm to biodiversity caused by radiation, not to mention the massive rebuilding necessary at the blast site with high associated ghg emissions. Also remember the necessary transport infrastructure!

Our products are manufactured in artisanal underground laboratories and transported in suitcases.

 

Be truly green, use biological weapons!

maanantai, 15. heinäkuu 2019

X-Men: Dark Phoenix (2019)

Nah, they said. Don’t bother watching X-men: the Dark Phoenix. It has the emotional intensity of a wet sock. It is soulless and has nothing to offer. And I was chuckling inside, smugly certain I could uncover the soul and emotions from under whatever fluff and dross they were buried, since how could a movie based on the Dark Phoenix Saga be completely useless?


I was actually physically shaking with irritation after seeing the movie. So yeah, in a sense it was an emotional experience, just not a positive one. I really really disliked what was done to Dark Phoenix’s story. Well, I did not like the recent reincarnation of X-Men films to begin with. Not the teenage personas and not the actors. Not the lack of epic feels and not… well, ehh, apparently I only watch these X-men movies because of some sort of misplaced loyalty to my younger X-men fangirl self, who would have been so delighted to hear there are going to be popular superhero movies by the dozens in the 21st century.


As I remember it – though it’s been many a year since I read the Dark phoenix saga – it was a great study in the superhero comics maxim best put into words in Spiderman “with great power comes great responsibility”. We have telepath Jean Grey, who accidentally acquires cosmic powers. But the cosmic powers dwarf the human perspective, and she among other things destroys a planet with a population of millions. A creature of cosmic or even just galactic scale is by necessity rather solipsistic, human and humanoid lives not much registering in their considerations. After various eventually unsuccessful attempts to restrict her powers to a human-compatible level, Jean makes the sacrifice and destroys herself, and we readers know it is a sacrifice and not an escape, because we’ve been shown the alluring si

de of Dark Phoenix’s powers. And she does all these decisions herself, not being led by some mys

terious alien foe / personification of vindictive revenge, as in the movie. This is with bothers me the most in this remake. Jean Grey does not have much agency in her own movie. In fact, to borrow a quote from a friend with whom I watched it, “How the titular character manages to be just a statist?”. 

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Yeppp. The movie is only very superficially about Jean Grey / Dark Phoenix. It is actually all about Professor Xavier. His mistakes, his intentions, his revelation, his redemption. Jean Grey’s story is but an accessory to this end. The pivotal line in the movie, around which it appears to be spun, is Jean Grey telling Prof X “I forgive you. I understand you did it because of love.” (Or something to that effect.) Precisely what the jealous or controlling or abusive person would love to hear, being (in their own eyes) misguided or over-eager but ultimately well-meaning, and if the other one would just see it was love, pure love that made them restrict or lie or hit… 


I’m also rather resentful that Jean Grey does not get to actually enjoy her powers. She gains them, is happy for like 2 minutes – and not that much happier than your run-of-the-mill teenager going to a house party – and then starts vacillating between anger and distress. So many tears, so much anguish, mostly just because she’s experiencing anger. Like that’s the worst, most unnatural thing for a girl to experience! Like she’s completely unprepared for such a perverse emotion! Oh anger, soooo nasty, that’s not very girly at all! 


(I would like to see a superhero movie about some guy superhero who gains amazing superpowers and immediately freaks out, not actually having fun with them at all. Hides and whimpers, terrified of his super-ability. But no-one in their right mind would script such a movie, since it makes psychologically zero sense. And to be fair I would not, actually, like to see that movie. So I take that back.)


It amazes me that some comic industry dudes in the 1980’s managed to create a storyline which does not raise immediate questions regarding their understanding of female agency, while some movie industry dudes – and this was pretty much an all-male panel – in our enlightened times manage to be such idiots and mess the same storyline so badly. Just, how?!?!? And, why?!?! This story does not appeal to woke women after getting a taste of Captain Marvel, and on the other hand also not trad guys, since it’s on the surface level about some weepy girl. 


I did appreciate Dazzler’s well-deserved appearance on the silver screen, I hope she’ll pop up in later Marvel movies. The villain was quite cool, if psychologically near-parodically clumsy. And other than my irritation and these few good points, the whole movie is just fading from my memory, like nightly fog after dawn.

tiistai, 9. heinäkuu 2019

Grace Livingston Hill: Marcia Schuyler

Grace Livingston Hill wrote sweet, rather unexceptional ‘inspirational’ romances, with one unique ingredient: all her stories feature pretty clothes, wanting to dress up in pretty clothes and clothes as a vehicle for emotional fulfilment. In her books, dressing up is not a sign of sinful vanity, but something wholesome and natural, one of the feminine virtues and a necessary ingredient of a happy marriage. She is also a connoisseur of fine lace – I can tell, since I’m one myself and we recognise each other even across centuries. 


In Marcia Schuyler, published originally in 1908, the pretty clothes are made for our titular heroine’s sister Kate, as she’s about to get married. The book opens with a mouth-watering, sensual description of minute stitches and delicate fabrics. Marcia admires the fine things in Kate’s trousseau just as she admires the groom-to-be David, not enviously, just happy to see her capricious, beautiful sister to get what’s best in life. But oh! At the very last moment, Kate escapes with her secret lover, leaving her groom just hours before they are supposed to be wed. Marcia, David and the reader are all equally dumbfounded that David ends up marrying Marcia instead of his absent bride-to-be – it just sort of happens and we will accept it, just to get the story started. Maybe this kind of stuff happened all the time in 19th century America, who knows? 


Marcia gets the trousseau and the husband, but neither are truly her own. The emotional pivot is the moment when David decides to buy a new, own bonnet for Marcia. He recognises her need to have a wardrobe of her own – emotionally intelligent – and ventures outside his comfort zone to buy one – a small but meaningful sacrifice to signal he’s about to become Marcia’s beloved. 


Both the groom and the accidental bride are pleasant, agreeable people, trying to make the awkward situation bearable for each other. If one were to be accidentally married, or let’s say stuck on an deserted (though well-stocked) island, or just roommates, either of these two would be quite nice to share the predicament with. Marcia feels some distress over her sister’s shameful conduct, but does not wallow in it in excess, and David comes to terms with his betrothed’s betrayal with perfectly balanced amount of angst. Not so much he’d come across as prone to dramatics and not so little he’d appear cold-hearted. 


Marcia is the perfect companion: sweet-natured, unselfish, supportive and intelligent. She embodies all the feminine virtues, including natural pretty looks and girlish enjoyment of dress. The only criticism which applies is that in her complete innocence she’s helpless when encountering her foes (vengeful village girls, lusty men, critical in-laws). Any trace of aggression, even for self-preservation, would compromise her perfect meek and innocent girlishness. But she does not need to be able to stand up for herself. Her goodness and unselfconscious beauty charm less gifted but good-natured girls to act as her allies and protectors. Her childhood friend Mary Ann would lay herself down for Marcia to walk over if necessary, and neighbour girl Miranda who takes a liking to Marcia as soon as she sees her, becomes the third protagonist. Where Marcia is passive and reactive, and as such embodies the perfect feminine ideal of the time, Hill acknowledges the necessity of a more active approach in Miranda. Miranda has none of the charms of Marcia – she’s ugly, lacks all aesthetic refinement, is disobedient etc. But her heart is in the right place and when the necessity arises, she acts decisively. Marcia and Miranda are two sides of a coin, the adored and the adorer, the helpless and the helper. Helpless Marcia would end up molested if left on her own, not so well brought-up Miranda spies and even lies to find out if Marcia is in danger and then heroically sweeps in to save her from the advances of the story’s secondary antagonist, Hill’s typical lusty man Harry Temple. As her reward, she gets to kiss sleeping Marcia on the cheek. Apparently Miranda got her very own book, I’ll definitely read it to find out if she ever got a chance to express her girl love!


A remarkable portion of western romance books describe a situation akin to arranged marriage. Two people are thrust together, not due to personal choice but external circumstances, and during the storyline develop a romantic bond. It is a bit strange how the lack of choice is considered as a great premise for love, especially considering how very atypical and actually difficult it is to end up married to a complete stranger in Europe or US in the last two hundred years. Romance writers have to come up with the most absurd plot twists to produce these arranged-marriage-like situations. Think as I may, I haven’t yet figured out what makes this set-up so popular. It seemingly goes against the whole ideology of romantic love, where the only thing that matters is the feeling of the love-pair for each other. But there must be some hidden pay-off, some emotional fulfilment in this scenario. What is it? Will I ever find out? Is it going to be in any way useful if I do solve this riddle?

Follow our heroine Auroora Lamminlaine on her quest to figure out the entire human experience from early 20th century romance novels for more exciting insights!

keskiviikko, 26. kesäkuu 2019

Oblivion (2014) - with spoilers

Much-maligned movie which has supplied me with my go-to soundtrack for writing heroic scifi fiction. At last watched it, and it was quite interesting with fabulous design. Architecture, costumes, machine design - all very well though out. It was nearly a good movie. Or a good movie unfortunately constrained by Hollywood stupid action movie expectations. If a few lame one-liners had been cut, chase scenes shortened, and one scene where the obvious is explained to the slowest people in the audience completely obliterated, it would have been… but what’s the use of speculating like that. It is what it is. Close call with greatness and still so far from it.

 

Oh! if you watch it, better be prepared for it being male-centric in the unselfconscious, innocent way of action and scifi movies before 2017 or so. But it is so earnestly a guy movie, not pretending in the least to be equal opportunity, that I can’t be upset at it. 

 

The protagonist Jack (Tom Cruise) is a hard-working simple guy, who reminisces of baseball and fixes machines. Earth has been ruined in a war with aliens, and he’s helping the rest of the humanity to escape to Saturn’s moon Titan by keeping sea-water distilling machines working. Or so he’s been told. Just as in the Matrix, our hero finds out all his life has been a lie. 

 

Wouldn’t that be great! 

 

It’s our tragedy and pain that we’ve been told the truth. The world is just as we’ve known all along. There is no excuse, no ethical pillow for soft landing, we are in falling and falling and falling - failing and failing and failing to act according to our moral beliefs or even in the best interest of our own species. Is there going to be a terrible impact at some point, splattering blood and skull shards around? Probably not. In real life changes are gradual and payouts delivered unfairly, those who have the most power to ruin the world will suffer from it the least. But still, the instinctual feeling of dread need to be resolved, a plausible explanation found, in the dream world of cinema if nowhere else. 

 

It would be so nice if Morgan Freeman father figure delivered us of our personal responsibility, accepted our pleas: But I didn’t know! I had no idea, in my lovely penthouse apartment, on the top of the world, going to work every day in my cool vehicle, that I was working for the enemy destroying our world! I’m just a simple dude, naive though hard-working, longing for the good life in the country, hoping my stuck-up wife was a little more spontaneous and she and her boss always micro-managing my time. It’s not my fault, none of it! 

 

He would nod, reassuring, approving, certain that now that you know what’s right, you’ll do it. Like a hero, one of thousands and yet special. Ready to sacrifice anything for the right cause. Even life itself. If only it was a simple single task and not a million inconveniences, like in reality.

 

Well, saving the world is a million inconveniences, and not many of us bother with them, so we need movies like Oblivion to resolve the stress caused by knowing the right thing and not doing it. Thank you Oblivion, the catharsis you provided was good, and the emotions it made me feel were real.