Saturday, May 07, 2005

Serenity Review (No Spoilers)

Because I feel strongly that you should not allow yourself to be spoiled for this film. You want the full impact, don't you? You want the true-believer collective experience of spontaneous gasping, laughing, and blood-curdling screaming, right? And you want the full HSQ that you know Joss is going to deliver, right? Of course you do. So I'm going to talk about this without giving out any plot points, at least nothing you won't know if you've seen the trailer. It's going to be a bit of a tightrope walk, but you will thank me for it, because there are big shocks in this movie. So get away from those spoiler-y links. You'll like yourself better come September 30.

Thursday night. Ms. Bowen and I arrive minutes before the screening is due to begin. The theatre is filled to the brim, as theatres which sell out often are. They don't even have any poster cards left (dammit), or comment cards, or golf pencils. (Well, they might have had golf pencils, but without the comment cards, I'm not sure there's much point.) No matter; I got a keychain, and I'm fine watching my movies without filling out evaluation forms. (Although I would have liked the chance, if there were a question like "What would you have liked to see more of in the film?", to write down "Monkeys." Not because it's true, but because it should be said often.)

There are people in costume. Uff da. This is--hm. I see a woman in a ridiculous getup that I guess means she's trying to be Inara, only without Morena Baccarin's bone structure. Or lips. Or eyes. Sigh. Where was I? Oh, yeah, costumes. Mostly I'm wandering around looking for a seat, but I do notice a guy in a suit with blue latex gloves on, but he's alone, which makes me think he wasn't paying very close attention to the whole "Two by two, hands of blue" bit. I wasn't expecting this; I guess I underestimated the feedback loop of geekly anticipation. Honestly, I haven't felt a collective buzz like this since I was twelve and went to the opening day show of Return of the Jedi. Still, I thank god for the fact that there were no aliens on Firefly. Else I might be forced to openly scorn a fellow fan.

Eventually we find seats--in the front row, and not together. The lights go dim, and I am a geek. I'm all giggly with anticipation. And suddenly another geek is on the screen. It's Joss, and when I call him that I mean it in the best possible way, because he's clearly geeked about his movie and proud and amazed that it got made at all and that any of us care. We care, Joss. He says this movie shouldn't have been made, that it only was because the people involved in the series couldn't let go of it. He says that the fans made the movie possible. In fact, he says that we, the fans, made the movie, and if it sucks it's our fault. Hee. He says the movie is going to need help to be a big hit, and we need to get the word out (Jeez, what do you think I'm doing here?) about how much we loved the movie, assuming that we do. If we don't love the movie, Joss says this is a good time for quiet contemplation. Everyone laughs. He says, in a line from one of the episodes which I have seen meta-quoted a couple of times already, that "We" (the collective we, encompassing the filmmakers and the fans and, I don't know, the concession stand worker who sold me the M&M's) "have done the impossible, and that makes us mighty." He looks really proud and possibly teary when he says this. Sniff. Aww. People cheer and laugh and clap all throughout Joss's little speech. Me, I'm still waiting for Jewel Staite to show up and kick the guy with the nachos out of the seat next to me. (Other cities got celebrities, dammit. Why not Chicago?)

Now this was an advance print, so keep in mind that the picture was a teensy bit grainy, and the sound wasn't full earwax-crumbling digital surround. There wasn't much music, and I suspect the opening credits will be much flashier, and that the closing credits will exist. The theme song wasn't there. I hope it will show up in the final print; I really like that song. Joss also said there were effects placeholders, although to be honest I didn't really notice any. And yet despite the unfinished-ness, I want to see the movie again right now. You must understand, I am not a repeat moviegoer, or I haven't been since Army of Darkness came out. Not that I won't watch a movie multiple times, but I usually wait for the video. So this is high praise.

Here's the first genius thing about the film. There's a world galaxy universe lot of information to give out to the newbies, right? Not to mention thirteen episodes of backstory. But you don't want to bore the fans, either. And for a moment as the film begins I fear the exposition, because as far as I know Cate Blanchett hasn't signed on to narrate. But Joss manages to take not one, not two, but three clichéd expository devices and explode them, transitioning from one to the next with such vertiginous precision that by the time the first three (maybe four?) minutes have passed, a huge amount of character and world information has been conveyed, and it's not boring. It pulls you in even if you already know it, and if you didn't, it gives you the exact amount you need to understand what's going on. And at the same time he's doing this, he's making fun of what he's doing, and showing off just a bit, but not in a pretentious way. The sense of fun came right off the screen and pasted a big smile on my face and said "This is going to be a ride." That opening is freaking genius.

But who cares, right? I want my story, and I want to see these great characters put through their paces. And they are here, never fear. Fear for them, because they're in a Joss Whedon film (sorry, I just have to type that again: A Joss Whedon Film. That's a pretty sight). Some get more emphasis than others, and Mal and River are the focus here, but everyone gets their moment. These actors--they are so good. Hilarious, heartbreaking, sexy, smart, but most of all committed to the spirits of these characters. OK, some are better than others, and some of the weaknesses are still there, but Joss really has gotten the best out of everyone. And that goes triple for the breakout star of the film, Chiwetel Ejiofor. Whedon is so good at villains--the Mayor is my personal fave--that perhaps it should go without saying, but I'm saying it. A Whedon fable needs a good villain, and Ejiofor is better than good. He's ruthless and scary and complex and I want to see him in more movies. (And I know about Love Actually, thanks, I get told to see that movie a dozen times a day and one of these days I will actually take that advice.)

There is of course, a bittersweet quality to this film, because rather than a two-hour film we could have had these events unfold over the course of two or three seasons of television. Don't mistake me; Serenity is a satisfying film, and it has nuanced character moments and it has grace and it has subtlety. (It also has guns and crashes and blood and explosions, so it's an all-around crowd pleaser.) But there were points at which I thought to myself, "I would have loved it if this were the season 1 finale," or "This character conflict could have been so much more deeply explored over the course of two or three episodes." Except in my head those phrases sounded less pedantic. The point being, I watched this with a tinge of sadness for what can never be.

But oh, what it is. I'd estimate that I spent fully half of the film with my mouth hanging open, from shock or awe or worry. The story pays off some of the series' subplots handsomely, and although I must admit that half an hour in I had figured out the essence of where it was headed, I couldn't see the path, and the rule of Surprising Yet Inevitable was not violated for me. Some mysteries are solved, while others, it seems, never will be. Serenity herself--much like another SF ship, Moya--is still propelled as much by the intersections of the characters' varying agendas as it is by Kaylee's engineering genius. (Kaylee, by the way, gets some of the very best lines in the film.) Yes, Mal is the captain, and much of the journey of Serenity is a trip into his dark places; but it's also a film about a dysfunctional but loving little family, which is, I think the secret to so much of its appeal.

If I may speak for the crowd for a moment? We loved it. We laughed so much we missed lines of dialogue, and then we gasped, and then we cheered and then we sat in stunned silence, some of us near tears, and then we were laughing again. I remember that Jedi screening way back when, and how the entire theatre cheered when Darth Vader threw the Emperor off the precipice. That was a great moment, and there were similar moments at the screening. It was a good feeling to share this film with people who are as passionate about it as I am. I hadn't been a fan like this since that first Star Wars trilogy, until Buffy came along. Because Whedon--gloriously manipulative bastard that he is--never forgot, unlike Unca George, that it was about the story. What a beautiful thing.

I can't wait for September 30.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Virgin Rebirth

Apparently, after the IDOT (you have to love that acronym, for the extra letter my eyes always add when I read it) painted over the Madonna, two car-wash workers decided to clean her up again.

This is one of those things that would make a great mini-saga of a short story, only it's true.

Random Bits

School is done--at least, for the next month or so. It hasn't really sunk in. Want to know how consumed by school I have been lo these many months? I'm just now getting around to reading The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror for last year. (It's very good.) So now I have all this time I have to fill. I think I can do it. I'll start by riding my bike (now that the Chicago weather has finally warmed), maybe a weekend of camping, playing the guitar, writing my WisCon story, going to advance screenings of really excellent films . . .

Didja catch the subtle hint? I saw Serenity last night. Wow. I'll blog more about this later, but for all of those with high expectations: raise them. I'll blog more about the movie later--without spoilers, if I can manage it--but, wow. Just wow.

Our Lady of the Underpass has been defaced. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, blah blah blah.

So who wants to edit the Infernokrusher anthology?

Monday, May 02, 2005

Attention: The Future

OK, this is the best thing I've read in a while. Some folks at MIT are planning a Time Travel Convention for next Saturday; time travelers from the future are asked to make an appearance. Do your part to publicize this event in every way possible. Carve it in stone. Embed it into whatever you write today: fiction, a memo, computer code, what have you. Let the future know that we want them to show! The relevant time and coordinates are:

May 7, 2005, 10:00pm EDT (08 May 2005 02:00:00 UTC)
East Campus Courtyard, MIT
42:21:36.025°N, 71:05:16.332°W
(42.360007,-071.087870 in decimal degrees)

More here.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

The Elephant in the Banquet Room

Or, "Inside Edition: The Nebulas!"

It's been a blurry couple of days. Friday I pounded out a paper and sent it off mere minutes before houseguest Karen and I took the train downtown (we grabbed some hot dogs first) to get registered and hit the reception honoring Anne McAffrey, where pins were handed out to the nominees present. Saw many people; Christopher, Gwenda, Ben, Sean, Mary Anne, and fellow Semi-O's Lois and Raechel. Met the very charming Greg Van Eekhout and his equally charming (though not quite as tall) wife, Lisa. Also met the distinguished David Moles, who along with the lovely and cheerful Susan had some good news for me which is kind of not a secret but maybe still kind of a secret so if you've figured it out, great, but if not I'll elaborate within the month. Susan's SO Matt was also there, but I have no link for him. Matt, start blogging!

Eventually we wandered out of the reception room and down to the bar and then back up to the lobby's big crazy couches (The Allegro Hotel, where the Nebulas were held this year, is a beautiful Art Deco/Art Nouveau/You Tell Me creation, with an overall great look and some bizarre chandeliers) to drink and talk. Christopher gave a bravura interpretation of the Moles/Rosenbaum/Chiang discussion here, and Mr. Rosenbaum demonstrated once again that he has more energy than a roomful of four-year-olds on amphetamines. Knowing Saturday would be the big party night (either in celebration or comisseration), we called it a night and planned to meet at Mary Anne's for brunch.

Saturday was a day for elephants. Elephants on the TV before we left for brunch (and rhinos, on Croc Files, elephants on the plates and keychains at Mary Anne's, elephants (OK, one, and technically Ganesh) on Doug's LiveJournal. Then today, the last of the Lincoln Park Zoo elephants--with the deeply wrong name of Wankie--has died. So I will be writing a story about elephants. It's brewing as we speak.

Many people came to brunch: besides myself and Karen, there were David, Ben, Greg, Lisa, Hannah, Tobias Buckell, Jack Skillingstead, Laurel Winter, Ellen Datlow, Eileen Gunn, Ellen Klages--the two last of whom would eventually be bringing home awards. Mary Anne had a feast prepared and in exchange asked us all to recommend books we'd read in the past year. (I touted Melina Marchetta's Saving Francesca and Julio Cortazar's Hopscotch.)

Well fed, Eileen, Karen, Hannah, Ms. Datlow and I shared a cab back to the hotel, where Hannah and I went to the "State of Short Fiction" panel featuring Ellen, Gordon van Gelder, and Gardner Dozois. Summary: SF is not dead, not enough good SF is being submitted, slipstream is either lazy writing or boring. (The latter opinion was expressed more by Gardner and Gordon, but was a subtext of much of the audience comments as well.) It was interesting to be there hearing this; SFWA, by nature of its membership criteria, has a median age of perhaps fifty-something, and the generational conflicts we had discussed the night previous were implicit in much of the discussion.

After that, Hannah and I chatted with Tobias for a while--I hadn't met him before, and he has a lot going on. He has a novel out in February, and his Weekend Writing Jams are still in full swing--if you're a neo-pro with a free weekend in June, you might want to check them out. We had stashed our fancy clothes in Susan's room, but had trouble getting in touch with her, so we took a short walk around downtown, blundering onto the set of a Sandra Bullock movie. Funny how she doesn't look like Sandra Bullock in person, exactly; she looks like a woman who looks like Sandra Bullock.

We found Susan, we got changed. I had wine, then more wine, then we ate. I sat at the Strange Horizons table with Karen, Susan, Matt, David, Hannah, Mary Anne, Greg, and Lisa. (Our table had by far the youngest median age at the banquet--it was speculated that we were the only table with more than two people under forty.) Matt had a confrontation with a piece of chocolate cake which had represented itself, on the menu, as both mousse and truffled. Banquet planners, take care in the future, lest ye awaken the rage of Matt. I, on the other hand, had a Warm Apple Crisp which was all three.

I must confess that the awards presentation seemed to go on for quite a long time. Perhaps it was because I was quietly rooting for a few people in particular to win--they are among those named above. None of them did, in the end (although some good writers did win). I blame myself. Well, no I don't, but it's worth pointing out that you need to be a SFWA member to vote, and I'm going to try to figure out if I qualify so that next time there are works which I feel passionate about on the ballot, I can at least say that I did my part. If anyone who's reading this is on the cusp of membership, I humbly suggest you do the same.

After the banquet, there was more drinking, more talking, a rugby clinic run by Ben Rosenbaum and another gentleman whose name I have unfortunately forgotten (who at one point had me draped across his shoulders and those of David Moles in order to demonstrate how a person like me might be killed in a rugby game). At this point--it was perhaps 1 in the morning, and I'd had a few--I was starting to run out of gas, while Ben was still tapping into whatever unholy source of eldritch energy fuels his frenetic self. It's both amazing and a little frightening.

At any rate, after a bit of lounging on the stairs with Gwenda, Christopher, Karen, Susan, Matt, Sean, and Hannah, I felt myself shading towards pumpkin orange. So there were hugs and "hasta la WisCons" all around, and we cabbed it back home and slept the sleep of the just-too-tired-to-keep-on-partying.