In Which I Enjoy a Problematic Movie

tigger So yesterday I played hooky after a doctor’s appointment and went to see Legend of Tarzan. It was serviceable–I have a thing for the Tarzan story, even though Burroughs is problematic as fuck. Margot Robbie was a decent Jane, and the CGI was great. Skarsgard looked fluid and very lithe, and clearly liked Robbie a lot. Their pairing had chemistry. It was Samuel L. Jackson and Skarsgard who had the most screen time together, and their chemistry is pretty brilliant. I would love a Jackson/Skarsgard buddy movie. HOLLYWOOD, GET ON THAT.

As for the rest of it, well, it’s a Magical Honky[1] Film based on a huge series of Magical Honky Books, so it’s not going to be anything other than–you guessed it–problematic. And oh, that source material! Before going in, I skimmed the original Tarzan one and two, and rolled my eyes in all the usual places.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a film about the early stages of Tarzan and Jane’s relationship, with Skarsgard and Robbie on deck. That’s what I’m really into the Tarzan thing for, and while I got a bit of it here, there was much more roller derby and not a lot of girlfriend. Which is okay, I like roller derby.

All in all, it did exactly what I wanted it to do, even though I winced at all the Magical Honky tropes.

So today it’s back to work. I’m glad I listened to my writing partner, who said, “THIS IS TOTALLY YOUR NARRATIVE CRACK, GO SEE IT AND ENJOY IT FA CRY-EYE.” I have been hitting the “work work and nothing else” button a little hard lately. Sinking back into the Cormorant Run world is…strange, and a little disconcerting. It came out of my head in such a rush, all its sharp edges tearing, and those places inside my skull are still tender. I keep flinching, having to force myself to look at what happens next, because I know things just get worse for pretty much every character, and now I’m really slowing down and describing the “worse.”

I needed a little restoration, and a little time off from the discomfort. Now it’s time to get back into the fray.

Over and out.

[1] This is the trope where a white boy is Better and Faster and Braver and More Super than any of the darker-skinned people he’s raised by/rescued by/comes into contact with, and ends up ruling them. The darker-skinned people are often, in this trope, conflated with animals/savagery somehow, which makes the whole thing patronizing as well as racist.

REVIEW: The Vegetarian

Vegetarian I read a review of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian not so long ago, and was intrigued enough to pick it up. I read it all in one sitting–well, mostly, with only a short break to make and consume dinner with the Little Prince–and, when I had finished, felt as if my interior space, physical as well as psychic, had been violently pummeled and made larger by the experience. The writing, translated by Deborah Smith (who also translated Kang’s Human Acts) is stunning, simple, and incandescent.

The book centers on Yeong-hye, a young Korean wife who has a disturbing dream one night and consequently refuses to eat meat. But that’s a little like saying The Metamorphosis is about bugs. The Vegetarian is densely layered and extremely brutal in the way only true things can be.

The structure of the book is interesting–three interlinked novella-length sections, each told from a different point of view. The first is told Yeong-hye’s husband, the second by her brother-in-law, and the third by Yeong-hye’s sister In-hye. If that seems odd, you’re right–we are given almost nothing from Yeong-hye’s point of view except two very short passages that might or might not detail the “disturbing dream” that sets the entire book in motion. Those passages could be read as her husband Mr Cheong’s imagining what the dream might have been, and that’s only the first of several layers of contrasting interpretation, meaning, and allegory.

At first, The Vegetarian seems to be about the dissolution of Yeong-hye’s marriage, since she not only steadfastly refuses to eat meat but also to wear a bra. She simply Bartleby the Scriveners her way out of both things, simply, quietly refusing to ingest what she doesn’t want to or confine her breasts. Mr Cheong, having married her thinking she was absolutely ordinary Korean housewife material, is alternately ashamed of and infuriated by his inability to “control” her the way Korean society thinks he should and he has come to expect. Mirroring his fury is Yeong-hye’s father, who at one violent family dinner tries to assert a right over what his (until now passive and obedient) daughter will do with her body. Young-hye’s resistance is largely passive and turned inward–since patriarchal strictures hem her in so thoroughly, the only way she can opt out is through refusal and, eventually, self-harm.

The middle third of the book shifts to Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law, a visual artist who allows her sister In-hye to support him while he’s “blocked” creatively. He’s obsessed with using Yeong-hye’s body as a canvas for one of his works, and the attempt to do so destroys his marriage as well. Paradoxically, his obsession gives us an insight into what Yeong-hye might actually want, although in the following section, we find out she may have still been heavily medicated all during the interactions and thus robbed of even that small measure of consent or agency.

The last third of the book is where everything is truly ripped open and The Vegetarian ascends to the level of a masterpiece. Everything leading up to it has been filtered through male perceptions and a patriarchal search for control of a female body, as well as the violence that ensues on several levels when said female body (not to mention the female owning it) refuses even tacitly. Yeong-hye’s sister visits her in a psychiatric hospital, and the unflinching examination of the stripping away of Yeong-hye’s bodily autonomy by the medical personnel is only part of the agonizing pain. In-hye has done everything “right” and been a model child, wife, and mother, and yet she’s in desperate agony. In-hye is forced to examine her relationship with her sister, the cruelty of their upbringing, and the pressures on women in Korean society. Wondering if her sister’s methods of coping with said cruelty and pressure are any better or less self-destructive than her own is a powerful question, one In-hye can barely bring herself to articulate, much less face.

The complexity of In-hye’s emotions around the caretaking of her sister and her son, the utter betrayal of her husband, and the emotional labor she performs for her family, all hit me right in the solar plexus. Realizing, once I had finished, that I had identified so thoroughly with In-hye that I had come to regard her sister as a symbol just as Mr Cheong and In-hye’s husband had was a nasty shock. Colluding in the strictures that attempt to rob women of bodily autonomy is almost impossible to avoid in most of the world, and Kang deftly performs the almost-impossible trick of implicating everyone, even the reader, in the violence of trying to make Yeong-hye conform. Not only that, but the allegory of the pressures on women in Korean society is so stunning that it also eclipses her, implicating the reader even more thoroughly.

I suspect I have not done this book half the justice I want to. It went straight back on my to-be-read pile for another go once my head has cleared, which is not at all usual. I feel like I have to go back and reread, maybe to try and find Yeong-hye under all the differing perceptions of her, maybe just to marvel at the sheer effortlessness with which Kang piles on and pulls away different layers of meaning. I also want to find Kang’s other work and devour it whole, which will either have to be through interlibrary loan or maybe selling some plasma to pad out my book budget next month.

TL;DR: Simply amazing, completely savage, and well worth buying in hardcover.

Back to Work

med12 I get to go back to work today! I get to revise Cormorant Run! Everything is itching under my skin from trying like hell to take a few days off. I know I needed it–my head was not a pleasant place to hang about, last week, being full of the noise and clamor of the internal engines winding down. But it was unpleasant.

I did finish reading a couple books, though. The best of them was Sarah Wise’s Inconvenient People: Lunacy, Liberty and the Mad-Doctors in Victorian England. Wise is an auto-buy for me, everything she does is a cracking good read and backed up with well-organized notes. Her bibliographies and appendices are things of beauty, too. You can feel her joy in history radiating from the page.

Her observations near the end of the book about the mid-twentieth century’s use of the Victorian concepts of “lunacy” or “moral insanity” and the connections to eugenics were startling and thought-provoking. She ends with saying that’s another book, and I devoutly hope she’s writing it.

Next up on my list is the Norton Critical edition of Brothers Karamazov, as well as Judith Herrin’s history of Byzantium. The latter has some problems, true. My eyebrows have nested in my hairline at some of the typos, as well as Herrin’s extremely evident good-feelings towards Christianity somewhat muddying the analytical waters. For all that, it’s a good general introduction to Byzantium, though not as magisterial and readable as John Julius Norwich’s work on the Eastern Roman Empire, which I reread every now and again, generally after I’ve had another bout with Gibbon.

I am pleased to report Miss B’s leg is doing well, too. I am still not taking her on runs, or even on gentle walks. The problem seems to be a muscle sprain just below her ankle, and that needs to be good and healed before she can chase anything down the hall or go on walkies. The poor thing is beside herself with impatience, and I can’t blame her. I feel the same way when an injury sidelines me. However, many snuggles and plenty of canine massage to help the healing process seems to be a somewhat (if not thoroughly) acceptable substitute. This morning she even scrambled after Fearless!Cat, who had come upstairs to investigate whether the dog bowls had leftover bacon grease suitable for feline snacking and hairball-easing.

After I revise Cormorant I need to make some decisions about which project to finish next. I’m thinking it will have to be Afterwar, my near-future Band of Brothers homage crossed with mutation and maybe, if I can shoehorn it in, some cyborg action. It’s still in the planning stages, but it’s a trilogy, and I feel like sinking my teeth into a series after finishing a spate of stand-alone books. This particular project scares the hell out of me, because it is big and there are so many ways it could go wrong. But it’s the type of terror that makes me fiercely determined to do my best to pull it off.

And that’s all the news from this corner of the world, except for an upcoming event at a local bookstore (more on that later) and Odd Trundles’s perennial quest to hoover up any item anyone in the house drops on the principle that sooner or later it will be something edible. This weekend he almost gobbled my phone, two sets of earbuds, a handful of cabbage meant for the cavy, a few catalogs, and a tube of rose-scented hand lotion. Thank God I’ve been rolling high on every “grab that before the dog gets it” interaction. Training for multiple years with toddlers has finally paid off.

Over and out.

REVIEW: Life and Fate

Life and Fate This last weekend I finished Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate. I’d heard of Grossman several times, of course–along with Ehrenburg he was the Soviet war correspondent of World War II’s Eastern Front. Or, as the Russians call it, the Great Patriotic War. (Ehrenburg would disagree with Grossman sharing his pedestal, I suppose. But I don’t.)

Grossman survived the war and even outlived Stalin, despite the latter’s vicious, senile anti-Semitism. Khrushchev, while not allowing Life and Fate (and other Grossman works) to be published, didn’t send him off to a camp or to the Lubyanka. (Small mercies, I guess.)

Life and Fate follows the Shaposnikov family and their circle, in various parts of the Soviet Union, through the siege of Stalingrad. The echoes of War and Peace are intentional, and indeed Grossman struggles with Tolstoy’s philosophy as well as his literary achievements. (Thankfully, though, he doesn’t betray a Sonya. He gets sort-of-close with Yevgenia Shaposhnikova, though.) His sort-of-protagonist, Viktor Shtrum, is part of the Shaposhnikovs through marrying Lyudmila; it is Grossman’s focusing on the women of that family that gives the book much of its strength. Even though Viktor is to a large extent Grossman’s authorial insert, it is the women who hold the book together, just as it’s the women who are always left to rebuild after the men kill each other in massive quantities.

Several times during the book, women are shown as more capable, more durable than men, and it is the “old peasant woman” in her many forms who holds society–such as it is under totalitarianism–together. There is the old woman holding a brick, who the observers clearly expect to bash the brains out of a German prisoner after the fall of Stalingrad. When she chooses something else, despite herself, Grossman’s own surprise is palpable. His habit as a journalist of describing what he actually sees despite it going against whatever preconceptions he may have is also palpable, and it made me enjoy myself despite some of the more wrenching parts.

What Grossman does best, really, is show the compromises–emotional, physical, spiritual, and in every other way–and the mind-numbing fear of living under totalitarianism. Viktor, after enduring the terror of waiting to be arrested by the NKVD, is suddenly restored to “citizenship” and grace because his scientific work helps the nascent Soviet nuclear program, and Stalin has just realized the utility of the latter. Once he is “redeemed” in the eyes of the State, he is presented with an awful quandary, asked to commit a betrayal. After sticking up for the “right” thing earlier in the book and suffering that completely devastating fear of arrest and reprisal, well.

People get tired, and they have to make choices under that fatigue.

Good men and bad men alike are capable of weakness. The difference is simply that a bad man will be proud all his life of one good deed–while an honest man is hardly aware of his good acts, but remembers a single sin for years on end. Life and Fate, p. 840

During the war, Soviet citizens had a hope of freedom. The state and Stalinism relaxed their iron grip in order to save its own skin, because terrified slaves don’t fight as well. Many believed that after the war, the arrests and repression would stop. That was part of what they were paying for in blood and pain and sorrow.

Needless to say, the repression began again just as soon as the German siege of Stalingrad was broken. Stalin had no intention of allowing the terror that kept him in power to fade, even if it was tactically sound to loosen the strangling fingers temporarily.

Grossman’s eviscerations of Fascism sprinkled through the book both highlight the brutality of genocide on the Eastern Front as well as, more subtly, the brutality inherent in Soviet totalitarianism. He doesn’t quite explicitly state that the difference between the two dictatorships is only cosmetic–and what Soviet writer could? But the comparison is there. Fighting an evil does not automatically make one good, Grossman seems to be saying, and that is a distinction often (if not always) lost in the heat of ideology.

If there is a way out of the tangle of bloodshed and fear, Grossman says, it is kindness.

Human history is not the battle of good struggling to overcome evil. It is a battle fought by a great evil struggling to crush a small kernel of human kindness. But if what is human in human beings has not been destroyed even now, then evil will never conquer. Life and Fate, p. 410

Of course, the character reading the above passage is in a concentration camp, he’s a diehard Soviet reading a “mad priest’s ravings.” The tension between this small hope and the evidence all around Grossman and his characters of man’s inhumanity to man is overwhelming. Grossman was Jewish, and one of the first to report on the death camps. Viktor Shtrum’s mother–a Jewish woman in Eastern Europe–dies, and Viktor’s grief is palpable. The effects of anti-Semitism, a cancer in Soviet Russia just as in Nazi Germany, is a poisonous aquifer in the book. Grossman, no doubt, saw enough of it to fill him to the back teeth.

Anti-Semitism is always a means rather than an end; it is a measure of the contradictions yet to be resolved. It is a mirror for the failings of individuals, social structures and State systems. Tell me what you accuse the Jews of–I’ll tell you what you’re guilty of. Life and Fate, p. 484

A neater–and truer–example of projection can rarely be found. Our own modern bigots and xenophobes do the same. If it’s not Jews, it’s Muslims, immigrants, what-have-you. Plus ca change

Reading Life and Fate was a marathon. Several times I had to set the book aside and take a deep breath. The tearing pain of bearing witness bleeds through the pages, made worse by the fact that Grossman saw the horror personally and could not bring himself to look away. I deeply respect that. He was also smart–and empathetic–enough to untangle the feelings of those who believed in Stalin or Communism, who had to believe or who could not imagine anything else. He didn’t shy away from the tragedy of the informer or the NKVD torturer as well as the victims, or the tragedy of those caught between and simply trying to survive from day to day.

Betrayed by his own state all his life, his books “arrested” and his own body failing him with stomach cancer in 1964, Grossman died without knowing that Life and Fate (and Everything Flows, his later book) would be smuggled out and published in the West in 1980, finally seeing publication in his own country in 1988. One suspects that as a journalist Grossman might have felt vindicated. And one can further suspect what he’d think of Russia’s current dictator-lite. Many thanks are due to Vladimir Voinovich and Andrei Sakharov for keeping the faith–and the manuscript–safe and bringing it out to breathe freely.

Wherever Grossman is now, I hope he can rest comfortably. He earned it.

REVIEW: The Siege

The Siege - Cover I finished Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Siege yesterday. His Captain Alatriste books are autobuys for me, I love that character with a fiery passion. The rest of Perez-Reverte’s oeuvre is good enough to warrant a look whenever I find it. His Queen of the South is, in my humble opinion, one of the few times a male author has actually written a believable female character, and of course The Club Dumas–with its attendant movie The Ninth Gate–is just straight-up fantastic, even if the latter is directed by Roman Polanski.

The Siege was a bit difficult in places, because even though Perez-Reverte’s written a believable woman once or twice, there is no guarantee for any of his other female characters. There’s a certain amount of brutal historical misogyny–the setting is, after all, Cadiz in the Napoleonic era–but the one female main character, Lolita Palma, is…problematic, at best. (I mean, really, you’re going to choose that name for a grown woman who’s supposed to be this serious, spinsterly paragon?) Palma’s relationship with the corsair Pepe Lobo veered into quasi-romance when it shouldn’t have; it could have been much more effective as a friendship based on mutual respect. Poor Dona Palma was sadly misused; I could have read a whole book about just her if the “ohGod gotta put a romantic subplot in here” bug hadn’t bitten the author. Also, Ricardo Marana, Lobo’s first mate, is the tubercular Doc Holliday to Lobo’s nautical Wyatt Earp, and I could have read a whole book about just their exploits, too. I didn’t get enough of Marana, the Letter of Marque corsairs, or a believable Palma.

The rest of the book is a murder mystery set during the siege of Cadiz, and it’s full of the sort of historical detail I’ve come to expect from Perez-Reverte. The French artillery captain Desfosseux is the hands-down the most enjoyable way I’ve ever read about trajectories and cannon fire; the taxidermist Fumagal served nicely in his appointed role and could have filled a whole book in his own right, but where The Siege really shines is in its sounding of the depths of Rogelio Tizon, the unscrupulous, oddly magnetic comisario of Cadiz’s police force.

Tizon is a nasty bit of work. Cruel, venal, and brutal, he’s also strangely engaging. He makes no excuses for what he does, and it’s that honesty that gives him depth and interest. He veers between offhandedly calling most women “whores” to deciding not even a “whore” should be brutally murdered–whipped to death with a wire whip, their backs flayed to ribbons and internal organs exposed. It’s those murders and the choices Tizon makes while hunting the murderer that function as the spine of the book. Tizon’s chess-playing alter ego Barrull was my initial guess at the murderer, and sometimes I think it might have been more satisfying if he’d turned out to be the actual killer instead of just a scholarly foil for Tizon and a way for Perez-Reverte to do some exposition. The added layer of mystery–the murderer invariably chooses places where a French shell has landed (or memorably, is about to land) is well done, treading the edge of believability and a chilling meditation the eerie logic of chance and instinct.

There are….problems, though. It’s telling that as well as making Dona Lolita Palma into a soapy paragon of a love interest instead of a believable character in her own right, only one of the murdered girls (because of course girls are the killer’s preferred target) is “respectable” and she is the one that ends up being “avenged.” The others are almost doll-like, their bodies only there to provide Tizon with his angst and to mark his changing (or slowly revealed) inner landscape.

There’s plenty in the book to love–the historical details, the naval battles, the picture of a city on the brink, the unblinking enumeration of all the things a siege does to human beings trapped by war, and some outright lyrical writing even in the middle of describing brutality. I’m glad I read it, but I hope next time Perez-Reverte treats his female characters as, well, human beings in their own right, as he’s sometimes done so memorably in the past.

All in all, two thumbs up, recommended, checked out from the library and would buy to keep in my personal library.

Serious Grousing and 2666

Zzzzzz Odd Trundles is sitting in my office, half asleep, groaning. There wasn’t enough peanut butter in his breakfast bowl, he isn’t allowed to chase Fearless!Cat, Bandit the Cavy isn’t available for sniffing, there are never enough ear-rubs.

It’s tough, being Trundles. Pretty soon he’ll wander into my bedroom, still grousing, hop up on my bed, and proceed to nap like the cranky toddler he is.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have actual work to do. Copyedits, wordcount, and administrivia for me. The Princess painted her room this past weekend–a lovely shade of blue, one she picked out personally. She didn’t want help, wanted to paint on her own, so I bit my lip and sat on my hands. And she’s done a marvelous job, even changing the outlet covers herself. Now she’s rearranging her bedroom furniture to suit the new walls.

The Prince, of course, has serious grousing of his own to do, since he is barred from playing video games. (Long story.) He can read, or ride his bike, or occasionally visit one of his friends who hasn’t lost gaming privileges. Being thrown upon his own resources is best for him in the long run–I am hoping the lesson’s sting will be, in the end, salutary–but for right now he bitches like the furious teenage boy he’s becoming. I suppose the fact that I find this amusing doesn’t help his pride, and his sister, having been through this storm herself and come out the other side as well, is very little help.

Poor Little Prince. Poor Trundles. The world is a vale of sorrow, indeed.

I finished Bolano‘s 2666 this past weekend, too. I have a couple more of his books from the library, but have bounced pretty hard off one in first person. The other, in tight third person, is palatable. Part of the problem, I think, is that toxic machismo that permeates so much modern (and ancient) culture. Bolano’s female characters aren’t real, they’re reflections of women seen through a male lens, and it’s somewhat insulting to read them.

This is an insult I’m well accustomed to in today’s world. Although I did like Elvira Campos the asylum director. (The eternal question, “Who is truly mad, those inside an asylum, or those outside?“) She, to me, was the closest thing to an actual woman in the whole damn book.

On the other hand, a major theme of 2666 (you could even say it’s the theme) is the epidemic rapes and murders of women in Ciudad Juarez. I suppose when even a male writer takes notice of such a thing it’s suddenly regarded as very dire indeed, instead of just the way things are, just the price women have to pay for daring to be born at all.

Bolano lived, as Michael Berger notes, under two repressive regimes himself, and wrote 2666 when he was dying of liver failure. In that alone, the book is a remarkable achievement. What I liked best about it was the consistency.

So often, when a writer sets out to accomplish a massive major work, it can get bogged down in stuntwriting, or the desire to please an audience rather than to tell the truth. The massive major works that I enjoy all have what I call internal consistency, where even if the writer is mad or a hideous person (Bukowski‘s awful misogyny springs to mind, he’s a great example) they’re still true to the story struggling to birth itself through their heads. They don’t look away, and even their insanity is honest. Even the lightest digression in 2666 is consistent with everything else, it’s all of a piece. The world he’s created, whether it’s a funhouse reflection of reality or the song underlying reality itself, or even just reality, is thoroughly and completely true to itself even in detail.

It’s exhausting to live that way, let alone write. For that alone, Bolano has my respect, and 2666 was worth the price of admission.

Trundles has groaned himself into his morning nap while I write this, and the Princess is still busily dragging furniture in her room. I suppose it’s time for me to get started on other work, too. The weather report says things will get nastily hot later in the week, but for right now the window is open, there is a lovely cool breeze, and I can hear birdsong threading through the Sigur Ros playing behind me.

Summer is here.

REVIEW: Jupiter, Betrayed

NASA's Hubble Shows Jupiter's Great Red Spot is Smaller than Ever So I watched Jupiter Ascending yesterday, and I have thoughts. Potential spoilers follow, you’ve been warned.

I know, I know. “You should have seen it in the theatre! The big screen!” Unfortunately the big screen means other people, and I just didn’t have the energy to deal with that when it came out. I much prefer movies in the comfort of my home, where I can stop them to get a cuppa or corral the cat. Or, you know, take a break every half hour and check on the noises contractors are making.

All in all, I enjoyed the hell out of it. I like the Wachowskis, and they’re extremely interesting visually. Mila Kunis did the best she could, Channing Tatum is always fun to watch, and Sean Bean didn’t die in the first twenty minutes! Plus, aliens! Danger! Seduction! Soylent Green makes you functionally immortal!

The problems I had with it are going to be more interesting to my faithful readers, I suspect. So, while I liked it overall and am glad I bought it (I can see it becoming a comfort-watch movie) I am frustrated by a few things.

I get that they were doing a Wizard of Oz homage, and part of that is fun (Kunis’s blue checked shirt, I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE!) but in the end, the story they scratched the surface of is far too complex for the ending of “I’ll go back to scrubbing toilets and I like it!”

What I wanted the ending to be runs a little bit like this: Jupiter turns Balem down, finally finding her strength and taking charge of this massive inheritance she’s received. She saves the earth, but it’s far too dangerous–for her and her family–for her to go back to scrubbing toilets, so her families’ memories are wiped, with her mother poignantly believing she lost her daughter as well as her husband, and Jupiter watches them from afar as she grieves and learns her new role. That would have felt emotionally true and revolutionary to me.

I also wanted at least one of the three Abrasaxes to say to Jupiter: you may feel differently about harvests when you’re old and staring death in the face. That would have made the movie ever so much deeper and richer–Jupiter may have triumphed, but any huge inheritance raises questions like that. I was gnashing my teeth at such wonderful, meaty narrative gone to waste, believe me. The closest we get is Kalique’s interrupted, “All you have to do is close your eyes–” Which isn’t nearly enough, and could have been preparatory to a stabbing.

Kalique is by far the most interesting of the three semi-villains. “My brothers must not suspect my involvement.” And at the end, she’s sitting pretty, both her brothers/competitors in business destroyed and Jupiter unwilling to take the helm of her vast inherited concern. It would have felt far more true if Kalique or her playboy brother killed their mother–or all three of them, a la Murder on the Orient Express. With the Wachowskis so intent on Oz instead of the story they were excavating, Kalique was forced into the role of Glinda when she could have been so much more.

Titus was another interesting character–seduction and forced marriage, whew! Unfortunately, his clumsiness at the beginning (“You couldn’t be persuaded to part with it, could you?”) doesn’t foreshadow his very neat manipulation of Jupiter later. It left me wondering how he’d survived his siblings at all. And wow, that Oedipal subtext.

Also, did we really have to focus so much on Eddie Redmayne’s mouth? For God’s sake, can we stop having villains with poufy lips and mild speech impediments? It’s not scary or funny, and I’m sick of it. Redmayne turned in a very good, subtly unhinged performance, but he didn’t have a lot to work with. (His flying monkeys were totes incredible, though. Points for that.) Points for Mila Kunis really trying, even though no socialite is going to ask her housekeeper for dress advice and the backbreaking work of housecleaning would kind of preclude the high-powered makeup they slathered on poor Mila, who doesn’t need it. Don’t gild that lily, Hollywood.

I liked Caine Wise, I liked his motivations. I liked Sean Bean’s Stinger, although that was a little heavy-handed. Tatum and Bean are so much goddamn fun to watch; I almost want them to go off and have adventures like I wanted Tyrion and Bronn to have books and books and a full series of their own.

One thing, though. You have them spliced with bees and wolves. Then you give them wings. Stinger I can see as a flying creature, but Caine? Come on. IT’S ENOUGH THAT HE SURFS, OKAY? You pack so many different animals in there, you’re going to have a puddle of genetic goo at the end. Did we really need wings, too? (Although that shield tattooed onto Caine’s arm? BRILL.) Did we really have to make Toto a complete Gary Stu of a flying monkey as well?

The interplanetary bureaucracy scenes were fantastic–I expect no less, from anything Terry Gilliam is involved in. I wanted more of the Aegis, and if the Abrasaxes are just one powerful family, where are the others? We don’t even hear about them, except for Caine tearing the throat out of one. (Which, you know, I can hardly blame him.)

There could have been a very subtle and stunning comment on Stalin’s Russia, then the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe, and the problems of capitalism. It could have been done so well, and the Wachowskis were the directors to do it, to dazzle viewers and make them think. Unfortunately, they seemed to get so caught up in shoehorning this wonderful idea into Oz fanfic that a number of chances to create something truly incredible were tossed overboard. I feel like the story they could have told was, well, betrayed and chopped into pieces.

Still, I loved watching it, and will watch it again, especially to see the threads I could pick up and turn into stories of my own. Tatum and Kunis work really well together, and I can watch flying skateboards all day, as we all well remember. I’ll continue to buy Wachowski movies–I wonder if they had to tack that milksop ending on to get funding? I wouldn’t think so, but after seeing them shy away from the implications of their wonderful worlds before, well. I do enjoy their ability to let characters say things that are either mistaken or just-plain-lies, and leave the audience figuring out motivations. It’s refreshing after a bunch of “WHO NEEDS SUBTLETY? WE’LL HIT YOU OVER THE HEAD!” movies. I wish they were allowed–or would take–more free rein with that.

TL;DR: I enjoyed Jupiter immensely. I just wished for more substance.