The Martian

I’m a child of ”Space Camp” (to the point that I have quotes like “We want to breathe, not dry clean our lungs,” and “Whip me, beat me, take away my charge cards, NASA is talking!” permanently engrained in my brain). A daughter of a man who includes Gene Kranz among his personal heroes. And a cinephile who came of age as “Apollo 13” hit the screens. Basically, I was practically genetically primed to love Andy Weir’s  “The Martian.”

Well…. I love “The Martian.”

We’re talking “owned it for a month and already reading it a second time” love. It’s just that good.

Besides being masterfully researched–and you can just tell that there are reams of research behind the facts that actually show on the page–the book is extraordinarily well plotted and, quite frankly, laugh out loud funny. It helps that the antagonist is, as Weir had stated, ” an irreverent smart-ass,” a description that could easily apply to me.

In fact, the tone is already set within the first line of “I’m pretty much fucked.” As Weir himself has said “I never intended for the book to be as funny as it ended up being, but looking back, I think it had to be—with a premise that has so much potential to be claustrophobic, it’s Mark’s voice and his gallows humor that keep things light and fun for the reader.”

And Weir did a masterful job of playing with the narrative structure. In my initial read, while I was enjoying the first-person narrative, I was also aware that the conceit would start to feel old. But before that happens, Weir takes you somewhere else… And he does it again and again.

If I had to come up with a complaint, it would be that he stated to follow the structural pattern of an episode of “House:”  think you’ve found the solution, new hurdle; think you’ve found the solution, new hurdle. Lather,  rinse, repeat to the end. And yet, each new hurdle is well-timed and each solution satisfying (and it helps that the hurdle is never lupus.)

Based on the research and NASA/space love, I’d recommend the book to science and sci-fi fans. Based on the smart-ass characterization I’d recommend (and have been recommending it) to all my friends. And based on a well plotted/paced story, I’d recommend “The Martian” to anybody who reads.

Superman III, Selective Memory and Spoon Movies

Despite my current love of all most things Marvel, when I was young, my cinematic heart belonged solely to DC. More specifically to Christopher Reeve’s Superman. As my mom put it the day Christopher Reeve died, “He was [my] Cary Grant.”

But just like nerds of my generation prefer to think of there only being three Indiana Jones movies and three Star Wars movies, I prefer to think there are only two Christophe Reeve Superman movies. And while I can remember distinct reasons why I felt that way about number four, all I could remember about Superman III was it was the one with Richard Pryor…until recently.

A coworker recommended I listen to the podcast “How did This Get Made.” I was in search of a little more humor on my commute…little did I realize I’d be uncovering some childhood trauma. Clearly my brain decided it was better to wipe this movie from my memory then let me remember the dreck that this movie entailed.

Clearly this was an unforgettable cavalcade of crap….and yet I forgot. Perhaps I should be thankful for my selective memory for protecting me from the memory of such schlock.

With one of my friends, a large portion of our friendship is spent going to movies and then going to drinks afterwards to dissect what we just watched. And while bad movies do make great fodder…there’s a point where they cross over into what he and I have dubbed “Spoon Movies”–movies so bad that you might be better gouging your eye out with a spoon than else yourself to the awfulness. I’m just happy that I now have a hilarious new resource that will identify them for me thanks to “How Did This Get Made.”

New York Comic Con: 5+1

Decided to have the nerdiest birthday ever and came down for New York Comic Con. It certainly didn’t disappoint. There’s still one day left, but I’m going to branch out in my nerdiness (and venture beyond the jam-packed halls of the Javits Center) with a little Hayden Planetarium tomorrow, so here are my five best highlights (and one minor, but nicely balanced, disappointment).

5. The Nostalgia: For being at a Comic Con, I’m not really much of a comics person, but rather a pop culture nerd. Still, two of the panels I hit were basically all about nostalgia: MAD magazine and Archie Comics. While both had their somewhat commercial moments there was still lots of laughs at MAD and a pretty phenomenal swag bag at Archie, so I’m all kinds of happy…and nostalgic.

4. The Cosplay: I was expecting it of course, but was still impressed with some of the amazing cosplay happening. I didn’t do much photography because I feared if I’d start, I’d never stop and there was just so much of it that it’s actually starting to blur in memory. That said, a few highlights stick out including a girl in steampunk-esque Dalek dress and a helmet-less Darth Vader (no, to steal a friend’s joke, NOT Hayden Christensen…this guy. And the makeup was unbelievably spot on). Also, there was this:

Still not sure what it is other than

3. The Doctor Who Smorgasbord. By accident of my randomly picking a direction when arriving and hitting the Show Floor, one of the first booths I saw (and the first I stopped at) was the official Doctor Who Store. So much TARDIS-y goodness. I restrained myself….a bit. Didn’t get anything huge, but did pick up some random odds and ends I either haven’t seen elsewhere or just finally gave into temptation on buying. It was enough to fill two hearts with glee (and squeee, of course).

2. Free Drawings for Total Strangers: I was totally drawn in by the art work at the Red Rocket Farm booth…not to mention the offer of a free drawing. On my first visit I drooled. On my second visit I bought two little octopus paintings. On my third visit I got a drawing. Free Drawings for Total Strangers has the tagline: “I ask people personal questions, and make a cartoon for them, based on their answers… (you will hate this).” I didn’t hate it at all! He asked me to tell him about something that happened to me when I was a kid and, it being ComicCon, I had waiting in line on the brain, so told a story from nearly 30 years ago (yikes!) about little 5-year-old Katy and her ability to wait in line:

The announcement referenced? That as the 35,000 person through the line that day (it was their 35th anniversary), my brother won a car. And thus, his vindication has now been immortalized.

1. The Nerdist Podcast: It was the discovery that there would be a taping of Nerdist on my birthday that inspired the whole trip down. If I believed in signs (I don’t) this would have been one. The show was fab, but the absolute best part was this:
That’s a Chris Hardwick/Jonah Ray/Matt Mira signed picture of my brother’s friend in Boulder, holding two Hardwick/Ray/Mira signed pictures of my brother in San Francisco as he’s holding a pair of my old Dave Matthews CDs, which are “signed” by Jonah Ray. Or, as Jonah said when I put the picture in front of him for signing, “Oh my God, this is fucking Inception!” It was a fabulous moment, well worth the effort of the cross-country in-joke.

So with all that, what could I possibly have been disappointed about? Well, I missed the Marvel panel and the lovely announcement of, oh, that’s right, Coulson Lives! Admittedly I missed it as I was having lunch with a friend (of the Hayden Christensen joke above) who I see every few years or so, so I’m not too bummed to have missed out cause frankly, the point is that, oh yeah, Coulson Lives!

5 Things I Learned from the Avengers DVD

Avengers: Creative Commons - Avengers has been a movie of firsts for me this year. First time I’ve seen a movie on vacation (on opening day…in Hawaii…). First movie I’ve gone to see in the theater more than twice. First movie I’ve gone out of my way to buy the day it’s released on DVD. Basically….I really like this movie.

I’m also a big DVD-commentary fan, so last night, when I got my “hot-off-the-presses” DVD home, I popped it in and queued up the commentary track. (Normally I’d watch the movie all the way through normally and then watch the commentary, but a) it was a work night and b) see above re: seeing the move in the theater multiple times.)

Side note: There are spoilers ahead, but c’mon, the movie is out on DVD now…if you’re spoiler-phobic either a) go see it already, b) stop reading about it if you haven’t seen it or c) both!

So what did I learn?

  • Joss didn’t, well…Joss Coulson: Or so he claims at least. According to him, one of the first things Kevin Feige, head of Marvel Studios, told him when he signed on was that Coulson was to be killed off. Joss was a bit put out seeing as he’s kind of known for pulling stunts like that with his characters and knew he’d be taking some flak for it.
  • Wesley made a cameo: Spotting repeat Whedon casting is pretty old hat for me at this point (I’d caught the Enver Gjokaj one pretty quick) but I missed the Alexis Denisof cameo. I’d say I don’t know how I missed it, but in this case I’ll cut myself some slack considering the amount of makeup he was under.
  • Robert Downey Jr. is an under-stated actor. No really. Sure he does the big over-the-top parts that you need to do with Tony Stark, but that man can do amazing things with a micro-expression. Don’t believe me? Believe Joss…and check out the shot of Tony in profile in the HUD display of the Iron Man suit when he’s carrying the missile that Joss particularly calls out in the commentary. There is a LOT going on in that 5-second scene and it’s all in the tiniest changes in RDJ’s face.
  • There’s a reason this was the first 3D movie I liked in 3D. And that reason (not to be overly fangirl….oh look,too late) is Joss. He very particularly didn’t want it to be over the top 3D but wanted it to be about the space of things. And that’s what I remember feeling. Sitting in the theater (front row, no less) and just feeling very *IN* the movie. It felt more real and it’s because the 3D effects were mostly used to give that all-encompassing sense of space and clarity and thus you were encompassed. It was so engrossing that I was actually surprised when a few of the more standard “zooming through the buildings” shots reminded me that oh right, this isn’t fantastic cinematography alone, it’s 3D as well.
  • I may have to buy a Blu-Ray player. The commentary is good and there’s a little “building of the team” featurette, but that’s all you get on the DVD copy. See above re: how much I’ve loved this movie. I want more. Plus…when I put the DVD in last night, my DVD player started making a funky noise. That’s reason enough to replace it with a Blu-Ray, right? And so what if my first movie purchase was a copy of a movie I already own. Nobody could blame me, right? Right?!

Disney of Yore

Had a snippet of classical music stuck in my head and did a quick ID it.My brain was saying it was Peter and the Wolf, and sure enough, it was Peter’s theme:

But in finding that clip, I got sucked down a black hole of memories…

Pecos Bill:

Paul Bunyan:

Susie the Little Blue Coupe:

Lambert the Sheepish Lion

(which is now the song stuck in my head)

But no, this isn’t just an excuse to watch endless YouTube videos (though you’re more than welcome to go even further down that particular rabbit hole, there’s a bunch of old Disney to be found). Earlier this weekend, I got into a conversation about Disney with a friend who is a new dad. He said he still hasn’t decided if he wants his kid watching any Disney (Pixar as exception), because of the morals that are so often portrayed, such as the idea that women aren’t complete without a man and they always need rescued in some way (his words, not mine).

I have to admit, in his shoes, I’d probably skip most* of the “Disney Princess” movies for just that reason…and I like the fact that he’s just as worried about his SON getting that message about women. But I don’t know, there’s still some worth in other Disney feature-length animation…albeit mostly the ones without romance as the principle plot point: Bambi, Dumbo, Fantasia, Alice in Wonderland, The Sword in the Stone. If I had kids, I’d like to think I’d want them to have a little of that magic in their lives.

Personally, I’d be more worried about the larger marketing juggernaut side of Disney. So count me glad that I don’t have to make those kinds of parenting decisions at all.

*Think I might still “allow” Mulan. Sure there’s the romance, but it’s secondary and Mulan was one of the so-called “princesses” who was fine rescuing herself.

Avengers: Equal Opportunity Objectification?

I’ve seen Avengers twice now (second time in 3D…totally worth it!) and the second viewing left me feeling a bit better about the film as a whole…I think.

Not that I didn’t enjoy the movie. I wouldn’t have gone twice if I hadn’t. It’s action packed, full of quick, snippy humor (as one would expect of Joss Whedon), that gives each member of a large ensemble cast at least one true moment to shine (see again re: Joss Whedon).

But I did leave the theater the first time a bit grumbly about the treatment of Scarlett Johansen’s Black Widow…a) a few too many close-ups on her ass and b) the fact that her character was always in heels…even when wearing “civies” her boots had ridiculously high wedge heels. What soldier/fighter is going to do well tottering around in heels? But she’s a girl super-hero, so sexism must abound.

The concept isn’t a new one. In fact, even though I’m not that into comics as a whole, as I have a (female) friend who works in comics, the concept isn’t all that new to me. (If you want a good rundown/starting point on the issue, here you go). So when I saw Kevin Bolk’s hilarious take on if the male Avengers posed like Black Widow, I both snickered and sighed at the truth of it.

And then I watched the movie again. And yep, there’s Scarlett Johansen’s ass, and she’s in the stupid heels, and so I Colbie Smulders’ Agent Hill and…wait, there’s Chris Evans’ ass…and again…and again…and…hmmmmm.

So…is objectification OK if it’s equal opportunity?

May the Odds Be Ever in Your Favor: A Hunger Games move review

CC License: weekends ago I had a marathon reading session as a burned through all three books of The Hunger Games. Unsurprisingly, as young adult fantasy with solid world building and a strong rebellious lead they were right up my alley. But powering through the books like that was all in service of this weekend and the movie.

Movies like this are rough when the books are a) so popular and b) told in the first person (so most of the exposition is the lead character’s thoughts). In the beginning I was a little worried. Part of it was that I couldn’t divorce myself from analyzing what they cut out and how critical information would or would not be playing to people who hadn’t read the books.

(Spoilers below)

By the halfway point I was really getting worried. They’d already burned through at least half the movie and they still weren’t in the games. And there was so many individual scenes that were so critical I didn’t know how the movie-makers were going to do it. Thankfully for us, the audience, the odds WERE in our favor.\

Once they get to the games, things really pick up and they not only hit on the key points, they hit on them well. Peeta and the pack? Check. Trackerjackers? Check. Rue? Check. Food pyramid? Check. Cave romance? Check. Feast? Check. And, of course, the final confrontation at the cornucopia.

There are a couple of pieces missing that will probably annoy the book purists (where the pin comes from, the depth to which Katniss and Haymitch plot the “lover” deception and Peeta’s discovery of that, etc). Plus, they started to get into the riots of books 2 and 3 early on by pulling them in already as well as the repercussions for the Game Master, Seneca. But in my mind, these minor changes did little to nothing to detract from the experience…in the case of the latter, I actually think it completely makes sense from the standpoint of leading to the next movie and weaving the whole narrative together.

Everything that was chosen to be left in, edited out, or pulled in from the later books was clearly well-thought out and elegantly done. Plus the did a really great job of using the announcers (gotta love Stanley Tucci being a ham) and Game Master to give some of the exposition that, in the books, was limited to thought in Katniss’ mind.

In fact the only real missteps I could find was their attempts to establish the Gale-Katniss-Peeta triangle. The flash-cuts to Gale during the cave scenes were so heavy-handed and contrived that the audience in my theater actually laughed every time it happened.

But that small misstep aside, overall the movie is amazing. Really, my only problem is that, unlike my marathon reading session, the next movie isn’t immediately here for me to enjoy. Let the waiting begin….