Tuesday, July 15, 2014

REVIEW: The Animorphs television show. Alternately: My Tiny, Squishy Heart of Feelings.

I'm not even going to give my usual disclaimer here, because if you're expecting a spoiler alert on a fifteen year-old show that hardly anyone watched in the first place, well...you have clearly been sheltered from society to the extent that the FBI is watching you right now.  It's okay.  They're, um, friendly.

When I get asked who or what formed me as a writer, I have four major answers: Joss Whedon, Stephen King, the team of genius/hack lunatics behind Xena, and one Katherine Alice Applegate.  All four of these influences came together when I was about thirteen years old, just as I was starting to nudge around and feel out who I wanted to be as a person and also just as I was starting to realize that I genuinely enjoyed telling stories.  Prior to that, my way with words was hollow.  It got me pats on the head from teachers*, but I really didn't bother with characters after I was done with them.  Animorphs was a big part of that shift.  K.A. Applegate was brilliant in making imaginative aliens, building a diverse cast in the weird gap between progressivism's first leaps and its' last ten years or so of resurgence**, and writing the horrors of war on a level that a thirteen year-old could understand.  That last part lingers to this day.

For twenty-six episodes across 1998 and 1999, Animorphs came to realization as a television show on the then-empiric Nicklelodeon Network.  Being a poor kid, I was only able to witness part of it in snatches and grabs as it aired even though I really, really wanted to***.  I've watched it all now, and I'm here to report.  Thus, Animorphs.

It's basically an endearingly bad series, though the first episodes are intensely bad in an inexcusable way.  At least get your episodes right, guys, Tobias can't be tragically a hawk and then just learning how to morph as a human three episodes later.  But do I think that a lot of what made the television series fail was due to the time and not the talent.  In 1998, on Nickelodeon, you did not have the budget or the technology to really bring to life what K.A. Applegate was trying to do.  She thought about doing the rubber-face thing with aliens because she sensed she might have an idea that would be hard to bring to the screen, was encouraged to be more creative, and then went *balls-out crazy* in a supremely fantastic way.  As a result, there was a lot that simply could not translate well to a television medium without CGI.  Plus, there were the animals.  Big, dangerous predators who can be filmed fighting realistically should...probably not be around humans.  In addition, the half-hour format did the show no favors when they were trying to follow plot lines that spanned an entire book.

Towards the end of the first season, though, a shift started to happen.  The writers start to work within the limitations of their budget and medium rather than against them and came up with some fairly clever solutions.  I bristled initially that destroying the Kandrona wasn't accorded to Rachel, because that was her defining moment in the series for me, but the writers managed work-arounds to bring in major plot points while also realizing that they were in new territory.  They got K. A. Applegate's ultimate philosophy and used it towards their own ends.  And the problem was never with the cast.  Shawn Ashmore is the only person to really have a mainstream career, and that sucks.  Christopher Ralph and Brooke Nevin still take the occasional small role, but most of the rest of the cast has retired.  A shame, as they were a fairly talented bunch for writing that just wasn't there for the longest time.

Man, that was a trip down nostalgia lane.  Apparently I have a lot of feels to share when it comes to my formative influences.

*I went to a state fiction competition at nine.  How no one realized that I was shamelessly glueing The Black Stallion to Standard Little Girl Horse Fantasy, I will never know.  Actually, now that I remember, part of the plot involved building a barn using actual glue.

**I remember her remarking with faint surprise that she hadn't received one single piece of hate mail about Jake and Cassie being in an interracial relationship.  That surprise is still saddening.

***My monthly allowance went to the Animorphs book that I devoured in an hour.  Also, I like footnotes.  It's a thing.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

REVIEW: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Usual caveats: 'ware spoilers.

Okay.  This is a bad movie.  It falls into the classic superhero movie fail of trying to stir in too many villains with too many agendas, it has all the racism and misogyny of a Transformers movie*, it's in general a steaming pile of stupid.  HOWEVER.  It is a visually entertaining movie.  It does have Stanley Tucci, whose career choices continue to baffle me in the best way possible.  (Thank you for Burlesque, sir.  Thank you.)  And it has robot dinosaurs.

As it turns out, I will put up with a lot for robot dinosaurs.

*At least Mikaela did stuff; Tessa just screams for people to help her without making even a token effort to save herself.  Darci and Su were pretty awesome, though, and I wished the movie contained more of them.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

REVIEW: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

My usual caveats: 'ware spoilers, but especially for this post.  There are some big ones.

Okay.  I have to say it: it was better than Avengers.  Now, before you rise up as one to murder me, hear me out: Avengers was an excellent ensemble film.  If there is one thing Joss Whedon is good at, it's juggling a large cast while still giving everyone their moment.  Unless you make a seven-hour movie, however, there is no way to get into the same character detail that you can achieve while focusing on one protagonist.  Cap 2 is a pure and total love song to Steve Rogers, and it nails it.  I'm kind of leaning towards dividing the world into two types of people: those who love Steve and those who don't.  It's not good for you if you're one of the ones who don't.  This Steve is very different from the Steve of the Avengers and, IMO, better for it.  Not a slam against Joss, as the deleted scenes of the Avengers make it clear that it was presenting a Steve still reeling and depressed, while Cap 2 is Steve starting to recover and become himself again.  And that Steve is a snarky bastard.  I have to laugh every time Steve is reduced to the perfect, obedient soldier, because hell no.  Steve Rogers is a horrible soldier.  I don't think he's followed a single order across all three of his film appearances.  Steve Rogers does what Steve Rogers thinks is right, and he gets away with it because he's such a genuinely good man while he sasses you the entire way.  The Winter Soldier is a movie about identity and trust, about the dangers of becoming so embedded in your own worldview that you don't realize when the rot has infiltrated.  (And a complete damnation of NSA tactics and the modern trend of constant observation, which was fantastic.)  No other Marvel hero than Steve could have pulled that off.  He's the only one who could ask people to choose between freedom and fear and not have it play as unbelievably corny.  Old-fashioned values, indeed.  I cannot wait for the shake-up that this movie is going to deliver when it comes to Avengers 2.

And now that I've made a completely ridiculous fangirl of myself over Steve Rogers (which is admittedly not new), can we talk about Natasha?  And I can I bitch and moan yet again that we're getting Ant Man and a goddamned talking raccoon before we get a Black Widow movie?  Natasha isn't quite into the love-her-or-you're-wrong territory with me that Steve is, but only because the Red Room hasn't quite become canon as far as the MCU is concerned.  I don't think it's been entirely ruled out yet, because Natasha is freaking my age and yet somehow worked for the KGB (do you have gaps that you can't explain, Nat?) and Scarlett took on a lot of in-character cagey facial expressions.  Until that's canon, I get that you might not have my sad little redemptionista tendencies and can't forget that she's a scary person used to doing Very Bad Things.  Which is a little bit why I love her, but okay.  We just need our freaking Black Widow movie all ready (if you think I'm ever letting that go, you are adorable) to bring in the Red Room backstory.  Then she will join my unapologetic Steve Rogers territory.  And when we get the Black Widow movie, we also get...

...another way for Sebastian Stan to fulfill his nine-movie contract with Marvel by continuing to break my freaking heart.  I've had a soft spot for Bucky Barnes ever since my Marvel conversion of a few years back; if you asked me to choose between him, Steve, and Natasha, my response would probably be to fall to the floor and cry until I died of dehydration and it didn't matter any longer.  This movie nailed him.  Sebastian Stan was actually the first casting choice that didn't cause me to tilt my head a little where Marvel is concerned--I really need to stop doing that--since RDJ as Tony Stark.  He was amazing.  Maybe ten lines in the whole movie, but watch his eyes.  And if you don't have a moment at "But I knew him" then maybe you're in the don't-like-Steve-Rogers box with me.

When the Black Widow movie happens (YouTube a good RickRoll, and you're welcome for the ear worm), I hope it has a healthy helping of Fury and Natasha interacting with each other, as their warmth towards each other was tremendously enjoyable.  You sort of got the sense that, behind the scenes since Natasha's conversion to SHEILD, they developed an almost paternal relationship in the most unlikely way possible.  I hope the inevitable BW movie (TALKING RACCOON, MARVEL) also features Sam Wilson, as I was enthusiastically won over to Falcon as his MCU incarnation after really just not liking him very much in the comics.  I loved that he, like Steve, was just a good man with no caveats to that.  Marvel has proven themselves to be masters of working the "good is not boring/dumb" philosophy.  Not to mention how much I loved that the All American Hero team featured two women (Maria Hill is back, competence kink in full force as always) and two black guys.  Marvel superhero movies aren't perfect on representation, but they honestly try, and they furthermore try without expecting head-pats for it.  I really do appreciate that.

Aaaand I've exposed all of you to enough of my fangirl lunacy for one day.  I'm much more about character than I am about clever plot twists, but the movie works a sense of a good 1970s spy thriller while maintaining the Marvel tone.  Watch it.  Watch it more than once.  I'm going to give you all a little bit of a breather from the geek-gasm I just dumped all over you, but only because I want to think about the MCU vs. comics interpretations of Falcon some more and then come back to 'gasm again about how perfect the interactions between Sam and Steve as alternate timeline mirror selves were.

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Veronica Mars Movie: Feelin' the LoVe

A nasty chest cold put me out of commission for most of last week, delaying my watching of the Veronica Mars movie.  (And trust me, the sulking was epic.)  As per usual, 'ware spoilers.

With only the smallest handful of reservations, I love this movie unabashedly.  It's not a blockbuster, it's not an art movie.  It's a love letter.  That's the best language to describe this film: an absolute thank you to the fans who wanted Veronica back and were willing to volunteer some serious cash to pay for her return to the screen.  We reunite with Veronica nine years after the series finale of the show, just as she's graduating from law school, interviewing with prestigious law firms, and congratulating herself on transitioning from the revenge-fueled life she led in Neptune to a stable, normal existence.

The slight problem, as Veronica admits to herself, is that stable and normal bores the shit out of her.  She returns to Neptune for the famed "one last job" (like that ever works out well) when former boyfriend Logan Echolls is accused of murdering his girlfriend, but one gets the sense that she would have found her way back even without his phone call.  Veronica refers to herself as an addict when it comes to her investigative urges several times throughout the movie.  Given that Logan states he ended his relationship with the (not yet then) dead ex-girlfriend because her substance abuse issues made him feel more like a sponsor than a mate, this gave me pause.  Veronica has always had deep issues with rage, played wonderfully by Kristen Bell and only enhanced by the fact that she looks like Tinker Belle cast into human form.  It's true to say that she's a noir hero, deeply flawed and with some not-so-savoury dogs in the fight that drive her to her acts of heroism.  I'm not sure how I feel about her last lines basically admitting that she's an incurable addict and taking up the mantel of Mars Investigations as a way of binging on her urges.  Very interested in the whispers of a possible sequel.  (MEANING GO WATCH THIS MOVIE, GUYS.  GO WATCH IT, GO WATCH IT, GO WATCH IT.  I MEAN IT.)

As much as Veronica likes to isolate herself when she's in a driven mood, she's nothing without the rest of her supporting cast.  Thomas was able to get nearly everyone back, from Mac to Wallace to Dick, and they are all wonderfully written and acted in their new, adult personas.  The character who surprised me the most, however, was Logan.  If you had told me a decade ago that Logan Freaking Echolls would, not only join the Navy, but actually rise high enough to make it a career I would have laughed in your face and then quietly advise that you check into a nice, quiet place to rest for a while.  But it works.  Between Thomas's writing and directing and Dohring's acting, Logan emerges as an actual adult who still has anger issues (it's not a Veronica Mars movie unless Logan gets into at least one fistfight) but is mature enough to acknowledge them and not let them rule his life.  And it seems...effortless.  Logan Echolls, actual adult.  Whoa.

Of course, this would not be a Veronica Mars movie without that dash of smolder between Logan and Veronica.  The chemistry between Bell and Dohring has not died in the slightest after nearly a decade apart, and this time?  The "epic" quote is earned.

The plot is smart, the acting is every bit as good as the series, and Thomas's voice rivals Whedon's in its immediate recognizability.  I'm telling you, people, if this movie doesn't get a sequel and the cliffhanger with Weevil is left unresolved, I will cry tears of blood.

Friday, March 14, 2014

My Veronica!

I am too sick to go see the Veronica Mars movie in public. (No one wants my sneezes and old man coughs in the theater, plus calling in today just makes it bad form.) I know I can rent it as of now on iTunes, but who knows how long it's going to last on the big screen when only certain theaters are carrying it now! Obviously, I am made of tragedy.
So go see it in my absence, even though I am going to transparently rent it on my computer. To my memory, this is the first crowd-funded major motion picture ever, and it features Kristen Bell as lead and is written by Rob Thomas. (Buy a copy of Rats Saw God and the S1 of VMars, thank you.) The crowd-funding in and of itself is a big deal, and a major paradigm shift from what studio heads think people want versus want people *actually want*. Secondly: Kristen Bell and Rob Thomas, always a smarter-than-you neo-noir combo. Thirdly: OMG MY SMASHY MARSHMALLOW IS BACK GET HERE YOU SWEETNESS. The fact that Veronica Mars is not included on every single list of badass Internet heroines is a freaking crime.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

I don't do events. But sometimes I write books.

Sometimes, I even write books that make me happy.  And with that in mind:

is live.  (Or LIVE!!!, as you may want it.)  Check it out on Amazon here, and feel free to flail-scream with me about Bonnie in the comments sections.  (I'm on a Bonnie kick.  I've decided to call it "my life.")

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Siren cover reveal!

Yes, at long last, Siren is ready to roll!  It's official premiere will be Friday, January 17th.  As an accompaniment, the first three Super books will be completely free through Amazon, and I will be completely obnoxious.  So, uh, fair warning.