Saturday, June 30, 2012

As it turns out, Channing Tatum can act.

(So can, to a lesser extent, Alex Pettyfer, but I'll get to him in due time.)

Until about a year and a half ago, I didn't get the Channing Tatum thing. He hadn't been in any roles that required more than diamond-cutting abs, I didn't really dig the Step Up franchise as a whole, and he just had--and has, but with age he's gained depth--a face that...lent itself incredibly well to a dumb, blank expression.

And then I watched The Eagle, mostly for Jamie Bell, but along the way encountered a lot of press for the Taters in which he was a funny, even witty guy who displayed a remarkable self-awaresness about the LOL REDNECK bullshit that really boils down to classism. (I have strong feelings on this subject, but I'll save them for another post.) So, okay. Dude's a worthy specimen of the human species. Doesn't mean he can act. Until 21 Jump Street came along and proved that Monsieur Taters is actually pretty damned gifted as a comedic actor, even if with dramatic roles he's maybe not so talented. Or so I thought.

Y'all, based on the previews, you probably think that Magic Mike is a Big Dumb Fun Movie about men being candy, and to a certain extent that's correct. I thought I was going to to have to do CPR on one of my girlfriends several times; given that she has an extreme aversion to being touched, this likely would have ended with me being punched in the face. The unexpected burdens of friendship. Anyway, the men in this movie are staggeringly beautiful specimens of our species, each one lovingly and lingeringly objectified in ways normally reserved only for women. That alone would have earned this movie a thumbs-up from me. However, it's also solidly written and acted, with a particular gift for witty dialogue that still sounds like normal people just talking while we spy in.

And Taters. Mr. Tatum, known with varying amounts of affection about the internet as Charming Potato, delivered far and away the best performance of his career. Though that could sound as damning with faint praise, given that he turned in the first of many pretty-boy stinkers over five years ago, it's really not. Tatum carries the movie with a performance that is hilarious, subtle, and layered. I didn't even known he could do those things with his eyes. He makes the movie. I feel like over the top gushing will ruin the review or make it seem like I'm giving him nods out of pity or something, given how much he didn't work for me in the past, but I'm not kidding: Channing Tatum refutes every negative thing ever said about his skills as an actor in this movie. A late bloomer, maybe, but undeniably a talent.

Which is not to say that an honorable mention doesn't also go to Alex Pettyfer, himself not exactly known for nuance and brilliant portrayals. I'm not giving him quite as much credit for playing an asshole, since backstage scuttlebutt is that he's every bit as difficult to work with as Taters appears to be a kind and decent guy, but his character is so painfully nineteen that I had to peek at him through my fingers a few times. I hope I wasn't that much of a little shit at the same age, but I kind of think I was.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

REVIEW: Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Description: Every year in Panem, the dystopic nation that exists where the U.S. used to be, the Capitol holds a televised tournament in which two teen "tributes" from each of the surrounding districts fight a gruesome battle to the death. In The Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, the tributes from impoverished District Twelve, thwarted the Gamemakers, forcing them to let both teens survive. In this rabidly anticipated sequel, Katniss, again the narrator, returns home to find herself more the center of attention than ever. The sinister President Snow surprises her with a visit, and Katniss’s fear when Snow meets with her alone is both palpable and justified. Catching Fire is divided into three parts: Katniss and Peeta’s mandatory Victory Tour through the districts, preparations for the 75th Annual Hunger Games, and a truncated version of the Games themselves. Slower paced than its predecessor, this sequel explores the nation of Panem: its power structure, rumors of a secret district, and a spreading rebellion, ignited by Katniss and Peeta’s subversive victory. Katniss also deepens as a character. Though initially bewildered by the attention paid to her, she comes almost to embrace her status as the rebels’ symbolic leader. Though more of the story takes place outside the arena than within, this sequel has enough action to please Hunger Games fans and leaves enough questions tantalizingly unanswered for readers to be desperate for the next installment.

My Thoughts: I was warned that the second installment of Collins's trilogy differed significantly in tone and, perhaps, quality from The Hunger Games. I'll agree to the first, but not to the second. (At least, not to the argument that the quality difference is a significant one.) The things I loved: that Katniss spends all of about thirty seconds dithering about whether or not she wants to lead a revolution before deciding to take every last one of those muthas down, one way or another. I will never apologize for how much characters unapologetically stepping up to right a wrong because it's the right thing to do makes me kick my feet with glee. I will also state that I didn't mind the increased focus on romance in this installment of the trilogy. Bleak and hopeless dystopia or not, Katniss is seventeen, and teenagers are hormone bombs. She's also for the first time in her life in a place where she can think about something other than her day-to-day survival. The girl's got a lot going on. And finally, Collins's world-building is every bit as original, strange, and gripping as it was in The Hunger Games.

Now, to pull the bandaid off: all right, the second book still isn't as good as the first. Part of it is a fine-line issue, as the descriptive writing simply doesn't pop as much (and Katniss says "Yeah" every other word now?), and part of it is Katniss. She's frequently petty in her anger in ways that she wasn't in the first book, and I didn't like her lack of self-esteem compared to Peeta in the slightest. The Hunger Games Katniss might have agreed to sacrifice herself for Peeta out of the pragmatic realization that he's a better orator than her, but she wouldn't have dithered about calling herself unworthy for being a survivor. I'm not entirely sure how I feel about Katniss being a pawn to the revolution rather than a participant, but I'll save my feelings and thoughts on that until reading the final book.

Oh, and Cinna is a freaking BAMF, but I hardly think that needs restating.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Writing As Therapy

I won't lie to you, Blogger, I'm not exactly having a great time in my personal life right now. My new day job is extremely stressful (quite apart from my admitted, ah, Type A tendencies*), and I've been feeling a little ragged over the past six weeks or so. To put it mildly. The last time I went through a dark period like this, it culminated in two straight nights sobbing on a bathroom floor and my friends calling me every hour on the hour to make sure I was okay. I never want to go through something like that again.

I also did some of the best writing of my life. I think you have to go through despair in order to write it; it's like trying to describe green to someone who's never seen it before. While going through a deep depression might have made me a better writer, more importantly to me, continuing to write even though I was going through a deep depression kept me sane. A similar situation arose last fall, though my dark period wasn't nearly as bleak. Upon being told that I would be laid off, I jumped into my NaNoWriMo project with a zeal and wound up writing one of the most viscerally creepy villains of my life. Likewise, in the middle of this meltdown-in-waiting, I've been able to distract myself by working on the fifth Super book, Bulletproof. Channeling Bonnie's PTSD and issues has helped me both deal with and distance myself from my own. Also, I get to blow up a lot of shit.

What? It's hardly a secret that I have some rage issues.

I'm starting to see the other side of this particular bad spot, and thank deity-of-your-choice for that, because I'm not sure how much more of it I could have taken. I did some pretty good writing during it, if I do say so myself. More importantly, though, continuing to write even when I basically just wanted to curl up in a ball and let people poke me with sticks made the depression endurable until it started to lighten. Screw my sales figures (actually, not really, people buying my books makes me really happy), I'm never giving that up.

(No, that's not sarcasm. I really don't know how I could cope if I couldn't write.)

*The words "chinchilla on meth" have been used before.