First, let me address one point: Casting Scarlett Johannsen as the main character is NOT a “whitewash”. “Major Kusanagi,” as she’s generally known, has never, ever been drawn as Asian-looking either in the manga or the anime. She’s always had round eyes, and, when in color, they are blue (or red, in one of the animes), and her skin is white. “Section 9,” the special law enforcement group she belongs to does not exist in any recognizable version of Japan, instead it’s “manga Japan,” which, in that, as well as other works, is populated by racially ambiguous people, many of which are pale-skinned, round-eyed, and have hair in Caucasian shades (when it’s not blue, purple, or other colors not occurring in nature). The director of the animated films, Mamoru Oshii said: “The Major is a cyborg and her physical form is an entirely assumed one. The name ‘Motoko Kusanagi’ and her current body are not her original name and body, so there is no basis for saying that an Asian actress must portray her. Even if her original body (presuming such a thing existed) were a Japanese one, that would still apply.”

That being said, we went to a preview of the movie at the Oriental Theatre on Wednesday night, March 29. I liked the movie a lot, and Georgie did, too, as it didn’t exceed her tolerance for violence and flashing/booming.

The movie looks great to my eyes. The long shots of the urban landscape are amazing, rife with gigantic advertising holograms, which Georgie called “Blade Runner all grown up.” The opening sequence of the creation of the Major’s cyborg body is pure science-fantasy, but beautiful, and almost mystical as her framework is levitated through the various stages of its “birth.” That life is not going to be quite easy for the new being is immediately apparent with the dialog between her creator, Dr. Ouelet (Juliette Binoche) and the owner of the company that created her, Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), in which he declares, “She’s a weapon.”

Flash ahead to a year later, and “the Major” is lead operator for “Section 9,” here described as an anti-terrorist unit, where her strength, speed, and ability to make herself virtually invisible, are of great use. Her ability to “deep dive” into cyberspace is less well understood, and her commander, Aramaki (veteran Japanese action actor “Beat” Takeshi Kitano), is uneasy with her using it. She has an uneasy comradeship with the other members of her unit, Batou (Pilou Asbaek), Han (Chin Han), Ladriya (Danusia Samal), and Ishikawa (Lasarus Ratuere).

I was really struck by Ms. Johannsen’s abilities as a physical actress. Although her role as Marvel’s “Black Widow” is superficially similar, both being female super-agent action heroes, the characters are quite different. I was particularly struck by the Major’s walk, which is a heavy-looking flat-footed trudge, as though she indeed had a steel skeleton. She walks with her head pushed forward, sometimes “forgetting” to move her arms, subtly underlining that she’s only had this body for a year and is still learning to use it. Similarly, her resting expression is very neutral: you don’t see thoughts cross her face, except when she is speaking or taking action.
The plot has some similarities to the 1995 animated film, with the major antagonist having the ability to “hack” people’s minds, but goes in a very different direction, becoming the Major’s origin story, which is more detailed and dark than any version given before.

Ms. Johannsen is well supported by the cast, especially Pilou Asbaek as Batou, and Marion Cotillard as Dr. Ouelet, who are the human heart and mind of the movie, respectively. It’s also good fun to see Mr. Kitano “taking names” in a wonderfully no-nonsense style. Peter Fernandino as Cutter is a villain for the 21st Century, taking personal command of mayhem with a remote-control interface.
The film’s portrayal of “augmentation” is quite compelling, and a lot of ways evocative of what the “man-machine interface” might be like. In other ways, it is quite fantastic and dreamlike, with robotic arms repairing the Major’s damaged muscle fibers by painting on new material with brushes. It’s never explained how she can jump off the top of a skyscraper (her favored method of “tactical insertion”) without harm, but still be damaged in combat. Of course there’s lots of over-the-top combat, but shooting and exploding is at a tolerable level. There’s some blood, shown as the aftermath of being wounded, but not much. No bad language or sex. We do see quite a lot of the Major’s artificial integument, but it’s not what one would call sexual nudity (unless you are already a robot fetishist--).

Recommended for fans of anime, SF/action, and superheroes.
Just a quick note. We went to a preview of the new "Ghost in the Shell" film on Wednesday night. It was really good and fantastic to look at. The cityscape is, as Georgie put it, "Blade Runner all grown up!" Long review to follow--.
Wednesday night, July 27th, we went to the Avalon Theatre to see the latest installment of the rebooted Star Trek franchise. I was interested because this was a new story, having skipped Into Darkness, the Wrath of Khan remake.

Star Trek Beyond is big, flashy, and loud. After starting off with a bit of humor and some contemplation, Kirk (Chris Pine) and the Enterprise are detailed for a rescue mission: an alien (non-Federation) survey ship has been lost in one of the universe’s many uncharted nebulas.
When the Enterprise succeeds in reaching the mysterious planet at the heart of the nebula, the ship is almost instantly attacked by a swarming horde of drone craft, which chew the ship to bits, and provide cover for pirate boarding craft. After a lengthy sequence of combat and disaster in space, the largest relatively intact part, the saucer, crash-lands.

Most of the surviving crew, having taken to the escape pods, find themselves captured by Krall (Idris Elba), an alien who somewhat resembles both a “Reman” from the Next Gen movie Star Trek: Nemesis, or the alien talking head from the Original Series episode, “The Corbomite Maneuver.”

Krall seems to have both a particular, though unaccountable, grudge against the Federation and a pipeline into Federation data resources.
Of course, Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scott, and Chekov (Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, and Anton Yelchin) evade capture by various means, but not without mishaps. Scott encounters warrior Jaylah (Sofia Boutella), who provides them a great deal of aid in rescuing the crew from Krall, and hindering Krall’s mad plan to bring war to the Federation.

I won’t go into further detail of the plot here: suffice to say that’s it’s pretty improbable, but not necessarily so much as to be jeering-at-the-screen stupid. Once the aliens attack the Enterprise, it’s pretty much non-stop action, to the extent that all the smashing, bashing, crashing, and flashing gets wearing. (Director Justin Lin was previously known for three episodes of the Fast & Furious auto race/chase/wreck movies--).
The particular good parts include the developing relationship between Spock and McCoy, and between Spock and Uhura, and the lines that Simon Pegg (one of the film’s writers) evidently wrote for himself as Scott. (I find it interesting that Kirk doesn’t seem to have any romantic impulses toward any characters. Even Yeoman Janet Rand, who used to cast longing looks at the Captain, didn’t make the cut into the new timeline. If this would have been a TOS episode, there would have been sparks of lust between Kirk and Jaylah. Instead, there’s a faint possibility of “geek love” between her and Scott--).

And of course, the movie looks fantastic. Special effects are up to par, with the destruction of the Enterprise being harrowing and effective. Best of all is Starbase Yorktown, an amazing concept of an artificial planet, which McCoy derides as looking like a “snow globe,” but which more resembles one of those Perplexus puzzle spheres, with interior buildings growing every which way, possible due to artificial gravity (an effect rather like the dream-sequences in Inception--). The design is “illogical,” but it sure is cool. Some things are a bit overdone, like the hostile planetary surface, a hell of jagged rock that makes the approaches to Peter Jackson’s Mordor look like parkland. The CGI designers must have been frustrated that so much of the action takes place on the planet or the starbase, because the end-title sequence includes some of the most beautiful renderings of nebulae and spatial phenomena I have seen, and is well worth sitting through.

Recommended for series fans with stamina.

Arriving at the Avalon Theater early, we were intrigued to find that, instead of the endless run of ads and promotional materials other theatres run between shows, they ran a couple of short subjects, which in this case, were both science-fictional. Rise, a highly produced short dealing with a developing war between humans and robots, starred well-known actor Rufus Sewell, and the late Anton (Chekov) Yelchin. It looked interesting, but we came in in the middle. Another was an extended music video titled “Holding on to Life”, by a group called Broken Bells, which appeared to be set in a version of the world of Logan’s Run. Neither the music nor the visuals were very compelling, I watched mainly to see if it would jell into something intelligible. It didn’t, but if it’s an extended trailer for some project, it wouldn’t have to.

And, speaking of trailers, we saw ones for a WWII movie, Anthropoid (it’s a code name--), Suicide Squad, XXX: Return of Xander Cage, Jack Reacher: Never Go Back; and Star Wars: Rogue One, all of which seem to be full of the old ultra-violence. Anthropoid looked well-made and interesting; I might see Suicide Squad on my own for the hell of it; Rogue One of course—ironically, it’s the least violent appearing; and give Xander and Jack passes. (Vin Diesel is getting a bit pudgy to be the action hero. On the other hand, I wager there is a seedy-looking portrait in Tom Cruise’s attic--).
On July 4th, we went to see “Independence Day: Resurgence.” Having read reviews saying it wasn’t as good as the original, largely because of the absence of Will Smith, we didn’t expect much, but found it better than expected. (While I like Will Smith well enough, I think he’s overrated. I had forgotten he was even in the first movie. The performances that stuck with me were Jeff Goldblum and Bill Pullman, both of whom are back for this entry.)

It is twenty years after the events of the first film. Humanity on earth is largely united by fear of the alien threat, and has supposedly* worked out a cooperative world government—or at least a unified world armed force. There has been no major war since 1996. (*I say supposedly, since the United States is still an autonomous country, as apparently is an African state ruled by warlord Deobia Oparei ( Dikembe Umbutu), which is the only country other than the USA that plays a major part in the events of the new movie.)

The reverse-engineered alien technology has given Earth an updated infrastructure, made the restoration of Washington D.C. and other cities possible, and lead to the deployment of a space defense force with a major base on the Moon. Of course, the twenty-year celebration of the alien’s defeat coincides with the aliens’ reappearance, as a bigger, badder threat.

This time, we get to find out what the aliens want, as, after destroying the Moon base (and part of the Moon), the Mother-of-All-Motherships settles over the Atlantic Ocean central rift, and begins boring toward Earth’s “molten core.” (Supposedly they want this for “fuel” and raw materials, which makes very little sense, but this movie doesn’t pretend to hard science. I admit I found the reference to “Cold Fusion” missile warheads amusing--.)

The battle for the planet is on, with expectable setbacks for the good guys initially. Ultimate victory requires both the young and valiant new warriors and the veterans of the last campaign to come together and employ their various talents to improvise a new plan. How it all works out is of course spectacular and, all in all, reasonably satisfying.

Spoileriffic Critiques:
The 3000 mile wide alien space craft is sufficiently massive to have its own significant gravity, as we are shown. Accepting that this film is a science-fantasy one remove from Star Wars, I suppose it was deemed that the disaster effects attendant on the ship’s landing were sufficient, and they didn’t really need to go into adding the tidal effects on the earth’s crust, or the perturbation of the planet’s rotation and possibly orbit by contract with such a massive object. After all, if the Earth is going to be destroyed in less than 24 hours, why worry about long-term effects? (And then there’s the little fact that a sizeable hunk of the Moon got sheared off by the incoming monstrosity--.)

On another front, apparently the laws on Presidential succession have been changed. When the entire National Command Authority gets wiped out by the aliens, General Adams (William Fichtner) is sworn in as President. Now, in the first place, in this situation, there’s no way both the President and the Vice-President would be at the same location, let alone the Speaker of the House, President Pro Tempore of the Senate and ALL the Cabinet Members. I can see not wanting to add another character to the already large cast, but the Secretary of Defense (Patrick St. Esprit) is already a speaking role, and he could easily have been the one Cabinet member to be at an “undisclosed location.”

And, frankly, Adams isn’t that good a general. Advised that a defense post in the orbit of Saturn has gone off line, he actually has to think about it before ordering red alert. Then, celebrating victory over the supposed alien probe, the Earth forces are taken flat footed when the real threat appears near the Moon. The alien heavy weapons adapted for Earth’s orbital defense have a power-up period similar to “Death Star” weapons, and the order to power up isn’t even given until the alien ship is already inside the Moon’s orbit, and the orbital defenses are in range of the aliens’ much larger weapon. Since the aliens are coming in hot, the defenses are destroyed before getting off a shot.

Tactically, the defense force aerial attack on the mothership was just embarrassing. Satellites are off-line or destroyed, OK, but no attempt at reconnaissance by aircraft was referred to. No electronic countermeasures were mentioned, nor were any of the bombers detailed to suppressing defenses, all tactics that evolved during the Vietnam War, and that are standard now. The low and slow formation flying used by the attack force would have been scorned by any World War II veteran of Schweinfurt or Ploesti, although the carnage inflicted by the defenses would have been all too familiar.

Where were the cruise missiles or combat drones? Plus, the mothership appeared to be totally defenseless from the underside, where an ocean salvage ship remained unmolested while reporting on the aliens’ actions. A submarine could have launched a full salvo into the ship’s underside with no apparent difficulty.

I understand that some of these things were affirmative decisions on the part of the writers to add tension and set the situation, but it’s depressingly sloppy and unoriginal. The same effects could have been achieved with tighter writing, some actual professional military advice, and some more creativity.
Having missed it in first run, we caught up with “Mad Max: Fury Road” at the budget cinemas on Friday evening, July 24th. I hadn’t been particularly interested by it initially, but the reviews captured even the interest of Georgie (who is not a fan of violence for violence’s sake), so we went, and were glad we had.

The film is set in a post-nuclear wasteland (not as obviously Australia as in the prior “Mad Max” films). Imortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne) rules a small “hydraulic empire” (water monopoly) enforced by his testosterone-sodden cult of “War Boys” , who believe that Joe will open the gates of Valhalla to them when their “half-life” ends (preferably in a splash of ultra-violence).

Max (Tom Hardy), who is the protagonist only in the classical sense of being the first character on stage, is captured by the War Boys, and both his car and his blood co-opted for the Citadel, Joe’s stronghold.

By chance, Max gets dragged along as part of the escort for Furiosa’s (Charlize Theron) mission to fetch fuel from Gas Town. (Evidently, “Imperator” is a rank title, which seems odd for a subordinate, until you consider that Imortan Joe is a “god”, more or less. It’s also unusual that Furiosa is one of Joe’s chief henchbeings, since no other women that we see are anything but property in the Citadel, but apparently she’s that tough--.) When it appears that Furiosa has her own agenda, events allow Max to get free and start taking a hand, although he still ends up going along with Furiosa’s plan.

Since I expect that, by this time, anyone who cares has probably seen the movie, I won’t go deeper into plot details.

Considered on its artistic merits, the film is grotesquely beautiful. It is a long symphony of motorized conflict, with every move carefully choreographed. The fact that the War Rigs are all real, and the battles done mostly without CGI really does somehow add something—an extra bit of realism to the surreal. And each move and tactic seems to have meaning in the conflict, without being just gratuitous. The kludged-together designs of the scavenged vehicles are crazily marvelous. The varieties of barren landscape have austere beauty, also.

The action is largely non-stop: the first half of the film has little more intelligible dialog than the “Minions” movie--; but there are breaks to let off pressure, which makes the movie easier to endure.

I appreciated hark-backs to the earlier series, mainly found in the credits, where the character names (“Rictus Erectus”, “Toast the Knowing,” “The Doof Warrior”) sound like members of the back-up band for GWAR or the cast of a Moebius comic. However, the thing I missed was the eccentric characters such as “The Gyro Captain” from Mad Max: The Road Warrior, or the nigh-unstoppable “Ironbar” from Beyond Thunderdome. Characters such as these must have been important to writer/director George Miller at some time, but now all humor, all whimsy has been ground under the hungry wheels of action, action, action.
Last night, November 29th, Georgie and I went to see "Interstellar." We both came away annoyed and disappointed. For Georgie, in part it was because she found being constantly manipulated by the emotional set-ups and the musical score wearing. For me, I found the "human" part of the plot (as distinct from the science problem part of the plot) turgid, melodramatic, and unbelievable. Also, despite the highly touted astrophysics in the film, it was painfully obvious that Professor Kip Thorne was not consulted about a lot of the BASIC physics, which were instead filled in by Hollywood cliches, which did a lot to ruin the movie for me.

I suppose we should be thankful to Christopher Nolan for making a success of "Interstellar" because that increases the chances that more SF films will be greenlighted. Here's hoping that one of these days we will see one where there only laws of nature that are broken are those explicitly called for by the science-fiction element.

Scroll down for my point-by-point objections, if you care to.

Planets orbiting a black hole: OK, accepting that for a moment, no matter how unlikely, where's the star that's providing the Earth-like daylight all three planets enjoy? What's causing the enormous tidal waves on planet One (I'm referring to the planets as One, Two, and Three, since, other than Dr. Mann, I can't remember the names of the scientists sent to each one)? Probably that close to the black hole, planet One ought to be tidally locked and thus have no actual tides. If they are actual tide effects due to the black hole's gravity, then the planet has a rotational period of about two hours local time, which should have been obvious from space, since the time compression factor of 61000+ to one should have made the planet appear to be spinning at approximately 511 RPM--.

I also tend to think that the region as close to the black hole as planet One would probably be uninhabitable due to hard radiation released as matter contained in the significant accretion disk crossed the event horizon, but I have no hard data on that.

Fractured Faceplate: In his attempt to murder protagonist Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), Dr, Mann (Matt Damon) fractures the faceplate of Cooper's spacesuit, supposedly exposing him to the ammonaical atmosphere of planet Two. Cooper reacts by writhing around on the ground making gobbling noises until he's able to grab the radio Mann tore off his suit and call for help. Now, since the planet does have atmosphere, if the spacesuit faceplate is cracked, one of three conditions must apply: either the pressure inside the suit is greater than outside, in which case the suit has a slow leak, endangering, but not immediately disabling; second, pressure is approximately equal, which means the situation is the same; or, third, the pressure outside is higher, which means Cooper has an ammonia leak in front of his face, which seems to be what's happening, although there's no other indication the atmosphere is that thick. However, the air isn't THAT corrosive, since when Dr. Brand (Anne Hathaway) comes to the rescue, she blithely flips Cooper's faceplate open and gives him a respirator. We don't see any red eyes or other trauma to Cooper's face moments later inside the landing craft. My point being that this planet is really cold, so a canny spaceman could have closed his eyes, held his breath, opened his faceplate, licked his finger and probably sealed the crack with frozen spit. That's assuming space helmet faceplates are that fragile anyway, which I doubt to begin with.

Exploding spacecraft: In an attempt to highjack the "Endurance", the mad Dr. Mann steals the shuttle, "Ranger 1" but can't dock properly and so attempts to board by overriding the airlock safeties. Note that this is essentially the same maneuver successfully performed by astronaut Dave Bowman regaining entrance to the "Discovery" when locked out by HAL. In "Interstellar" however, this results in a massive explosion, that kills Mann, destroys Ranger 1, and does serious damage to Endurance, knocking it out of orbit. Totally unreasonable! The worst thing that should have happened would have been the two ships drifting apart, propelled by the puff of exhausted atmosphere. The drifting Ranger might have damaged the rotating Endurance somewhat, but that's about it. This is the film's major case of subjugating scientific sense for Hollywood cliche. I would have written it so that the decompression pushed both Dr. Mann and the untethered Ranger away from the main ship, both to fall and be destroyed on reentry. The heroes still have to catch, board and re-stabilize the damaged Endurance, which surely would have been dramatic enough.

Then, in the movie, Cooper and one of the AIs manage to dock with the out-of-control Endurance, and use the landing craft's engines to stop the spin and lift the main space craft, many times the mass of the lander, out of the planet's gravity well, and out of orbit. Maybe not impossible, but highly unlikely in my opinion.

Note also: The Ranger shuttles are shown as being capable of landing and taking off from a planetary surface unaided, even Planet One, which has 130% Earth's gravity. So, why do they initially need a two-stage booster to get it off Earth?

Other quibbles: How could NASA have remained secret for years launching rockets from the middle of the continental United States? You'd think someone like Cooper, a former astronaut, would notice--.

"Plan B" as described, which involves only stored human embryos, would surely fail. What would they eat? Planet Three is pretty barren. There would have to have been more to it than that.

Dr. Brand's speech about relying on love when beyond the scientific data is out of character, even given her shock and upset at the death of Doyle. This is part of the unsatisfactory sentimentality of the script.

Last and not least, I consider any plot resolution involving time travel where time travel isn't part of the initial problem (as in "Looper") a cop-out.

So, a pity: serious science, a great cast, wonderful special effects, all fatally undermined by some short-sighted cliches. Rats.
We just came back from seeing the documentary film, "Jodorowsky's 'Dune'", about the 1975 attempt by Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky to make a film of Frank Herbert's science-fiction novel.

Jodorowsky, who was well known as a Surrealist for his films "El Topo," and "The Holy Mountain," wanted to make a genuinely mind-expanding picture. He was turned on to "Dune" by French producer Michel Seydoux, and the two agreed to work together on the project. At first, the film seemed charmed. Jodorowsky wanted to meet Jean "Mobius" Giraud to enlist him for storyboarding, but didn't know how to contact him. Jodorowsky went to his own agent's office in Paris and found Giraud there. When he and Seydoux went to New York to locate Salvador Dali, they found he was staying in the same hotel they were. Through a combination of serendipity and subtlety, they brought on board a most remarkable creative team, including special effects artist Dan O'Bannon, science fiction artist Chris Foss, and sculptor/graphic artist H.R.Giger, whose work had never appeared in films before. Jodorowsky got Salvador Dali, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger, and David Carradine all to agree to appear in the movie though a combination of craft and charm.

The production designs we see are amazing, and, had the film been made, there's no doubt in my mind it would have profoundly changed science fiction cinema as we know it. For one thing alone, Chris Foss' brilliantly painted spaceships are a major departure from the utilitarian white, gray, or metallic spacecraft that are the current standard. (OK, in the "Star Trek" Universe, you can have a Rustoleum brown spaceship if you are a Ferenghi, or one in zinc chromate green if you are a Romulan, but that's hardly individualistic. Even the Bird-of-Prey designs all look the same--.)

Ironically, the project foundered on Jodorowsky's reputation as a wild man, even though the universally admired script was his, the 3000 picture detailed storyboard had been created by Mobius as Jodorowsky dictated, and all the fantastic production designs had been created by his inspiration. No major studio was willing to put up the money to shoot the film. Rights were withdrawn, and assigned to DeLaurentis, which resulted in the 1984 David Lynch disappointment.

In addition to the history of the film effort, we get a large dose of Jodorowsky's artistic manifesto, which combines irrational exuberance with brutal honesty, expressed with a great deal of charm and humor, although sometimes in distasteful terms. He is not reticent in describing his pleasure at seeing the Lynch "Dune" and realizing that it was "a failure." Nevertheless, Jodorowsky's energy and enthusiasm are infectious, even at age eighty-four.

Even unmade, it is inarguable that Jorodowsky's "Dune" has had a significant effect on science fiction cinema and popular culture, if for no other reason that bringing O'Bannon and Giger together resulted in the whole "Alien" franchise, and, as the documentary points out, influences can be seen in many other films. Jodorowsky also began a long and fertile collaboration with Jean Giraud, that created a number of well-regarded graphic novels.

This was a fascinating exposition of "secret history" of our genre that we were very glad to have seen.
We found "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire" to be an interesting and exciting installment in the series. The second plot picks up shortly after Katniss and Peeta's winning the annual games, just before they are to set out on the mandatory "victory tour." Katniss is not dealing well with her post-traumatic stress or with trying to balance her public romance with Peeta with her genuine feelings for Gale (Liam Hemsworth). The pressure on her increases when she gets a personal visit from the sinister President Snow (Donald Sutherland), who demands that she convince the populace that her winning stratagem was in fact done out of love for Peeta and not to outwit the system, since she has unwittingly become a rallying point for dissatisfaction and potential new revolution. So, the emotional stakes are ramped up even before the devastating announcement that she must endure the murderous games again.

Jennifer Lawrence, reprising her role as Katniss Everdeen, does a fine job expressing the horror of living under a government that has given up pretending it is not an oppressor, while maintaining the Kafkaesque pretension that it plays fairly with its victims. Ms. Lawrence portray Katniss' anger, despair, and determination, while keeping her character believably youthful and vulnerable.

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mullark gives another stalwart and sensitive performance, and we get to see some depths from both Woody Harrelson as Haymitch, and Elizabeth Banks as Effie Trinket. Although the competing Tributes are mainly one-dimensional, seeing them makes them more real, although most of them get less action and dialog than in the novel. (Georgie was displeased with the role of Mags, the old woman Tribute, which adds to the stereotype that the old are only burdens until it is time to sacrifice themselves. It's been a while since I read the book, but I was pretty sure she had more to do in print--.)

Effects and production values are maintained, with some amazing costume and makeup designs, making for a satisfying visual experience.

That being said, I'm not thrilled about the prospect of the final book becoming two movies. Although there are two distinct parts to it, I don't really think that there was enough plot in Mockingjay to sustain two movies. But, I'll reserve judgment on the films until we have a better idea how they are done.
On Monday evening, November 11th, we went to see “Ender’s Game,” the movie adaptation of the 1985 novel by Orson Scott Card. In my opinion, this was an excellent movie, some of the best science-fiction in cinema in years, and an excellent adaptation of the novel.

Asa Butterfield, as Andrew “Ender” Wiggin, puts in an Oscar-worthy performance as the driven protagonist, who’s known since birth that he was only brought into this world in order to fight the alien enemy. From the focus of a budding exceptional genius, he periodically crashes into the emotional fragility and dependence typical of any adolescent boy.

His focus is polished by the abrasive and haggard-looking Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford), the training officer, whose utterly single-minded goal is to craft the best possible weapon to use against the alien enemy, with no mind to the cost in lives, minds, or souls.

Ben Kingsley, as Mazer Rackham, the man who became the great hero of the last war as much through luck as skill, and who tries to be the inscrutable master teacher, but does not entirely succeed at it.

The movie is set fifty years after the initial and devastating invasion of Earth by the Formics, insectoid aliens. After Rackham’s victory, they were driven off, and the forces of a united Earth have followed them into space, harrying them back to their homeworld. However, the mysterious aliens remain a formidable foe, and the Battle School training program, to which Ender aspires, exists to find the brightest and most flexible tactical minds among Earth’s youth, and prepare them to fight the next battles.

Contemporary CGI and other techniques combine to make the zero-G training room sequences—critical to the novel, a bit less so to the movie—believable and understandable. This is definitely one area where a three-dimensional visualization is an improvement over text alone. New imaginings of computer interfacings make the scenes of combat in space dynamic and dramatic, as well.

I found the emotional climax of the film for Ender to be satisfactory, for Graff, less so, although I believe that’s true of the novel also. I tend to have more sympathy for Graff, who’s lived with the war and fought a faceless and unhuman foe all his life, and who would understandably do anything to end it and make Earth safe.

As I said, fine, fine acting by Butterfield and by a talented and diverse cast of young people, plus the veterans. Good script adaptation, believable tech and effects and a generally good-looking film combine to make a very satisfying science fiction picture show.
Our event Monday was the panel on "Marvelous Women of the Middle Ages," at 10AM. This time it was "our" panel, since I was pinch-hitting for Betsy Urbik, who ran out of prep time due to the danger of flooding at her home. Betsy, however, had notes from Cynthia Gonsalves, who couldn't come at all due to family issues. I filled in since Betsy had been going to present on Joan of Arc. Although Joan of Arc isn't obscure, there was much to tell about her that was new to the audience, and Joan is closely connected to two of the other women we were discussing, Yolanda of Aragon, who may have helped work Joan into the confidence of her son-in-law, the Dauphin of France, and Catherine de Pizan, first female professional author and feminist writer, who eulogized Joan in her epic "Poem of Jeanne d' Arc."

Besides presenting on Yolanda of Aragon, Georgie covered "Black Agnes" Randolph, defender of Dunbar Castle. Betsy/Cynthia, Madeleine Robins, and Valerie Guyant all contributed pieces on fascinating women and we had some good audience participation as well. Unfortunately, I wasn't taking notes at the time and don't recall names, but Georgie was and will be doing a writeup on the panel that I will post here when she gets it done.

We had a reasonably safe drive home though the fog and rain, and so put another WisCon to bed. We are signed up for next year, as usual.

Guests of Honor for WisCon 38 will be Hiromi Goto and N.K. Jemisin.
Georgie was on "Monstrous Females and Female Monsters" at 4PM. Georgie had some good things to say on the mythic monstrous females, as did Catherine Lundoff, Zen Cho, Joyce Frohn, and Micole Sudberg. Although speaking skills varied widely among the panelists, the audience gave them good attention, and kudos to those who were showing courage as first-time panelists.

For dinner, we met with Darlene Coltrain and Steven Vincent Johnson and friends, and went down State Street looking for a meal. Kabul was the original goal, but when we found them full, we went next door to Husnus'. Husnus' is a Turkish restaurant, so similar to Kabul in some ways, but different in others. We had a plate of excellent hummus and very good bread as appetizer. Georgie had a very nice entree of sliced chicken breast in an orange sauce with apricots and artichoke hearts (Asmali Tavuk). I'm very fond of the Koftachalow (meatballs) at Kabul, and decided to try Husnus' equivalent, Izmir Koftesi. The Izmir Koftesi is made with tenderloin, and so was tasty but a bit drier than the Kabul version. The sauce was a thinner style, but complimented the cooked vegetables that came with nicely. (In addition to the potatoes and carrots mentioned on the menu, there was also cauliflower and green beans.) A good meal but my vote goes to Kabul. Darlene had the lamb shank special, and said it was very tender and tasty lamb, but somewhat lacking in the Middle Eastern spicing she was expecting.

Surprisingly, Husnus' had only one server on for the dinner hour. Perhaps most WisCon members don't get past Kabul? Since we expected there would be goodies of various sorts at the parties, we skipped desserts.

Back at the hotel, we waited a bit to get seats for Guest of Honor and Tiptree Award speeches, but got decent seats. Joan Slonczewski gave a short and very engaging talk about her work as an author and as a scientist. Jo Walton was warm and witty talking about reading and writing.

After the speeches, we went up to our room and changed for parties. We both dressed Steampunk since one party was a "Steampunk Speakeasy." However, we found that room to be too loud for comfort, and spent much more time across the hall at Joan Slonczewski's Purple Sharers party, which we found much more comfortable and chat-friendly. We retired after a visit along the hall to the other party rooms.
Saturday, neither of us had panels scheduled. We got up in time to go purchase croissants from L'Etoile and take a look at about half the Farmer's Market before coming back to the hotel to eat breakfast, and then go to the "Real Life Science Fiction" panel, which dealt with the most interesting recent science stories. Kylee Peterson, Jacqueline Gill, Heather McDougal, David Peterson, and GoH Joan Slonczewski gave a fascinating presentation on the frontiers of science.

After that, we had the obligatory Saturday lunch at the Tiptree Bake Sale, which seemed to be particularly good this year. After the break we went to the reading session, "A Confederacy of Troublemakers," which featured Karen Joy Fowler, Pat Murphy, Annalee Newitz, Madeline Robins, and Nisi Shawl. They gave us an excellent set of selections from recent and forthcoming works that we will definitely want to find and read.

Next, we visited the Art Show and the Dealer's Room. Both had very good selections this year, and were very interesting.

The next panel we attended was "Food in Spaace!" which dealt with the kinds of issues a long space voyage would need to resolve. How much food, and how would you store it/grow it/ create it? Are 3D printers the food replicators of tomorrow? What kind of cuisine? Who gets to cook? (Who does the dishes didn't come up--.) Panelists Liz Gorinsky, Sandra Ulbrich Almazan, Magenta Griffith, Penny Hill and Heather McDougal covered the topics well and with humor.

We went to dinner at Spice Yatra on the Square, which had pretty decent Indian food (Tandoori Mixed Grill was good) but the service was a bit slow--apparently not expecting the number of people in on Memorial Day Saturday.

We made a point to get back early in time for Tiptree Auction setup, because we were delivering two cakes that Georgie had made, one for each of the winning works. Georgie put in a lot of work translating the cover art for both works into cake, since the watery photo-manipulated covers they BOTH had ("The Drowning Girl," by Catlin R. Kiernan, and "Ancient, Ancient" by Kiini Ibura Salaam) were less than ideal for rendering as butter cream frosting. Everyone who sawthem seemed to think they were beautiful (as did I) and they took in $340.00 for the Tiptree Award.

Ellen Klages was in good form as auctioneer, and we stayed until after the cakes were auctioned and the siren call of the parties drew us upstairs and eventually to bed.
Friday morning, we drove over to Madison for WisCon 37. Driving was fine, and we had some of the best weather of the weekend, which otherwise tended to be cool and damp. Checking in to the hotel was no problem, and we were surprised that we had been "upgraded" to the Governor's Club on floor 12. What this meant was that we could use the exclusive elevator, but the Governor's Club lounge and complimentary food and drinks weren't included (unless we wanted to pay the extra, which we declined. The room was nice as the Concourse rooms usually are, but I don't believe otherwise any different from regular rooms. The express elevator was a nice perk though, particularly when hauling baggage in and out.

Our first activity was a joint reading at 4PM. We were proxy reading for Pat Bowne, who couldn't be there due to her academic responsibilities. Georgie and I jointly read an excerpt from Pat's story, "Want's Master," which the audience seemed to enjoy. Mark Rich read a very entertaining section on "Dejah Thoris," from "Missing Links and Secret Histories: A Selection of Wikipedia Entries from Across the Known Multiverse," forthcoming from Aqueduct Press. Fred Schepartz read from "Guitar God," a "Jewish, suburban, rock and roll fantasy with a 1970's soundtrack," which was also very good, and "Rez" read a suite of time-travel poems that were quite cleverly put together and as good as any contemporary poetry I have heard in quite a while.

After that, we went out to a quick dinner, and decided to try Five Guys Burgers and Fries on State Street. We found this widespread chain to be quite good. A standard burger there consists of two patties, or a "small" is one. We got one small hamburger for Georgie, a regular cheeseburger for me, a large order of fries to split, and soft drinks. The burgers were quite tasty, moist without being drippy. The cheese was standard American, nothing to write home about, and condiments, including ketchup, mustard, and pickles, of good quality. Judging by the sacks of actual potatoes in evidence, the fries are locally cut in the rustic style with the skin on, which gave them good flavor, but they were a bit too enthusiastically salted.

The restaurant has an old-school "White Castle" decor, with lots of white tile and red accents, liberally posted with their Zagat rating and "best burger" rating from many cities. The major down-check for us was the too-loud music, which is evidently part of the chain's vibe, but caused us to chow down and escape as quickly as we reasonably could.

The Opening Ceremonies were short and sweet, with no sketch or divertissment this year, which was a bit disappointing. Afterward, we went to "Betty Boop: The Original Slutwalker?" presented by Magenta Griffith. There were some problems with the AV equipment, so I rushed up to my room and brought down my laptop with DVD player, which interfaced with the projector just fine. Since I am a fan of Betty Boop, I was glad to act as the "projectionist" for the presentation. Magenta gave a good program on Betty Boop's history and development, and showed a number of representative cartoons detailing her transgressive career.

After that, we did a bit of mild party cruising and went to bed relatively early.

OddCon 13

Apr. 18th, 2013 02:33 pm
On Friday, April 12th, we drove over to Madison for Odyssey Con 13. The drive over had no problems, and we got in a bit after lunchtime.

We were surprised to see that the Radisson had been somewhat remodeled, with new garish carpets throughout, a new lobby layout, and a lot of new furniture, which was nice. Interesting, but a mixed blessing, was the major modification which created a passage connecting the two main corridors in the function area, which made it possible to go directly from convention registration in the “Basie’s Restaurant” lobby directly to the Oakbrook rooms without going through the bathroom “wormholes”. Looking at the map, I’m not sure if this actually reduced function space or not (had there been an Odana D room?), but the hotel’s expansion of their exercise room into the former consuite space certainly did. (The consuite was moved to Odana A—actually a bit better for that function since the room has two exits which improved traffic flow.)

The convention overall was somewhat low-keyed, pleasant, but not terribly exciting. Attendance was low, a bit over 300, which may have contributed to a lower energy level. It appeared that there was a “perfect storm” of other competing events that weekend—a game con in Green Bay, an academic conference in Eau Claire, the Madison Film Festival, ect.

Georgie had been put on two panels, and I on four, so it was going to be a busy con for us. I got right into it at 2:30 Friday with “No Free Will? So What?” At my suggestion, the panel did not get into defining “free will,” which could have taken up the entire panel, but instead took a generally accepted loose concept, and went on from there to justify our individual takes on the subject, taking into account recent research with brain scans indicating the unconscious parts of the brain react as part of the decision-making process. Here are my thoughts: Even if it is true that our decisions and actions are governed entirely be past experience and memory, this fact would be of no use. Not even we ourselves have full knowledge of what memories we retain, consciously or unconsciously. Even if there were a full video and audio record of an individual’s life, no one would be able to determine what one remembered, what one forgot, what one recalled unconsciously, so there is no possible way to predict how any particular individual will react in any given situation. So, functionally, we have free will and it makes sense to act as though we do. As Mr. Spock said, “A difference that makes no difference is no difference.” Also, I do believe that our brains/minds have a randomizing function, possibly as part of dreaming. After all, I’ve had many experiences in dreams that I have not and could not have had in the waking world. I’ve acted on dreams—writing stories based on dreams—so they have the capability to consciously and unconsciously affect behavior. Even if all the elements of a dream come from your experiential database, they are shaken up and rearranged in new ways.

After a quick check of the dealer’s room, we caught part of the “Madison Horror” panel, which gave us some interesting information about recent works by local writers in the horror and urban fantasy genre.

For dinner, we went out to Nile, a nearby Mideastern restaurant, with Bill Bodden and Tracy Benton, and had a very good meal and pleasant chat.
We got back to the hotel in plenty of time to take in the Opening Ceremonies, which had a “Steer Trek” theme. Written by Jim Frenkel and Jim Nichols, this was one of the more cohesive skits of recent years, and used a clever name-tag switching device to portray temporal “flickering” between Original Series and Next Generation characters. (Kirk/Picard, Spock/Data. McCoy/Crusher--.)

After the Opening, we dropped in on the Art Show reception. We were a bit startled to observe that the art show panels were less than half full, although local artists like Darlene Coltrain, J.J. Brutsman, and Trinlay Khadro were well represented.

We sat in on the SF poetry slam, which had only three participants this year, but some particularly good pieces, including Richard Chwedyk’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Robot.”

Curious as to the “Dominance and Submission in Real Life” panel, we joined a small but interested audience and talked about how this variation is different when played out between real people from common fictional tropes and social misconceptions.

Saturday morning we got up in time to take part in the “Basic Victorian Street Defense” presentation by David Crawford. He gave an of-necessity very basic but broad ranging survey of “Antagonistics” from the period.
Next, we went to “Tolkien and Jackson in Middle-Earth,” which touched on differences, for good or ill, between Tolkien’s novels and Jackson’s movie adaptations of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.”

Then we went to scrounge some lunch and thoroughly go over the dealer’s room. As expected, with OddCon’s game programming, there were a couple of sellers of dice and game-related stuff, and various arts and crafts, but no sellers of new books other than GoH books at the ConCom table.

At 2:30, I was on “Leadership in Combat” ably lead by Dr./Col. Rich Staats, who shared a lot of his fascinating experience as a commander in Iraq. While I was the one on the panel with no actual military experience, I thought I was still able to contribute some good points. Meanwhile, Georgie moderated the panel on “Whatever Happened to Ghosts?” which went well, covered a lot of territory, and sparked conversations later in the convention.

The 4PM panel was “Weapons of the Victorian Era,” with me, David Crawford, Lee Schneider, J. Shaul, and J. Watson. We did a pretty thorough historical survey of weapons common and uncommon. The PowerPoint I had put together came in handy for visual reference.

For dinner, we went to Maharaja with Jim Leinweber, and had a good meal and chat while other fans filled in the restaurant around us.

Alex Bledsoe gave a short and funny history of his early interests that lead him to writing, followed by Kevin Hearne’s humorous slide show covering the current state of cover art in Epic Fantasy and Urban Fantasy. Lynne Laakso finished with her story of her life as a fan and librarian.
After that, we went to Richard Russell’s always interesting talk on Fantasy Films of the year, and took part in the discussion until fatigue overtook us and we retired for the night.

We were up early Sunday morning, too, so I could get set up for my talk on “Mad Science in Real Life,” which was well received and the audience seemed to enjoy.

I was also on the following panel, “Potent Potables of the Victorian Age,” which was an enjoyable chat but somewhat lacking in direction.

Georgie finished up our con participation by moderating “And This is My Husband. . .”, the panel which attempted to answer the question, why aren’t there more married couples portrayed in science fiction.” The panel and audience surveyed SF, fantasy, detective fiction, and mainstream fiction without reaching any conclusions, but it was a very interesting exploration.

We took our leave of the convention and had an uneventful drive home, had dinner, and were in time to watch the latest installment of “Mr. Selfridge” on TV.
Georgie and I decided we needed to economize a bit on our trip to Chicon 7, so didn't go down until Saturday. We were up early and caught the Amtrak to Chicago as we had in the past with no problem, but were a bit dismayed when the train came to a halt a few minutes after leaving the downtown station. We were subsequently informed that there had been a motor vehicle accident involving one of the supports of a bridge the train had to pass over, and regulations required that the bridge had to be inspected before the train could proceed. Fortunately, the Canadian Pacific inspector was evidently on deck, since we were underway again within half an hour. The train made up some time on the remainder of the run, so we got into Union Station only about twenty minutes later than scheduled.

A quick cab ride got us to the hotel shortly after 10:30AM. A room was not ready for us, so we checked bags and went to Con registration. This was eerily familiar, with Registration and the Souvenir sales being in exactly the same spots as the last Chicon. At this off-peak hour, picking up our pre-reg packets went smoothly, and I was also able to pick up my Masquerade documents and identification as a judge.

There were some interesting readings scheduled, so we went over to the West tower for those. There was an immense line to get into the room for Patrick Rothfuss' reading (shortly moved into a larger room--), so we decided to divert to another. We listened to some or all of readings by Todd Gallowglass, Dierdre Murphy, and Nnedi Okorafor before breaking for lunch.

We got lunch at the "Bistro" restaurant in the hotel lobby, which was OK, although I've had a better pulled-pork-barbecue-with-slaw sandwich here in Milwaukee at HoneyPie Cafe. Then, we checked back at the hotel front desk, got our room keys, and went up to change.

Since most of the rest of the day would be concerned with the Masquerade, I changed into the outfit I would be wearing to judge, which was one of my "Steampunk" variations based on my black frock coat. When we took a brief look into the Dealer's Room, I was hailed by Phil Foglio, who awarded me a "Girl Genius" Steampunk hall costume ribbon, which pleased me very much. (I was croggled by the number of badge ribbons some people had, creating bandoliers that rivaled "Doctor Who" scarves in color and length. I at first thought that the concom had run amok in this regard, until I realized that every dealer, artist, author and group had produced their own as promotional material. Fun, I suppose, but it kind of defeats the purpose of using the ribbons as an access control measure.)

I had a 4:30PM panel on Masquerade presentations, which was fun if loosely structured. We tried to give some useful tips for beginners, and I think we did, and come up with some entertaining stories, and I think we did that as well.

The Masquerade green room opened at 6PM for an 8PM 'curtain' and I was ready to begin. My co-judge for workmanship, Carole Parker, was on time as well, and we got down to work as soon as we had subjects to look at. (Workmanship judging at the WorldCon is optional, but most of the contestants did opt to be judged on part, if not all, of their costumes.) I thought Carole and I worked together well. There were some stressors—it seemed like a good idea to have the video feed from the ballroom piped into the Green Room. However, it didn't work out so well when I turned out there was no way to turn the sound down or off, and a lot of the pre-show video was LOUD. Given that this meant that "den moms" and other staff had to shout to make themselves heard, it was sometimes really difficult to conduct a detailed interview with the contestants about their costumes. Granted this wasn't something the Masquerade staff had control over, but it might be a note for future masquerade runners to check on.

Some of the entries, notably "Suzaku the Phoenix," (Sarah Mitchell), "Mad Madame M's Marvelous Machine" (Margaret Gentile), and "The Lady of the Lake" (Aurora Celeste), showed obsessive attention to detail as well as representing enormous amounts of work. These were Best Novice, Best Journeyman, and Best in Show for Workmanship, respectively. We awarded "Leather Sole Airship Pirates" Best Master for Workmanship for their amazing operating backpack helicopter device.

After the Masquerade, we pretty much went to bed, as it was pretty late.
Sunday morning we were up fairly early, and partook of the breakfast buffet at the Bistro restaurant. I had the buffet, which included a pretty nice made-to-order omelet, and Georgie had the cinnamon waffle, which she pronounced good.

We started the Con Day by attending a reading by Carol Berg, author of "The Spirit Lens" and its sequels. She read from a forthcoming book that will follow her "Lighthouse Duet," novels I haven't read but will have to look up.

At 10:30, I was on the panel "Historical Accuracy in Fantasy." This was an interesting and wide-ranging discussion that took off in ways I hadn't anticipated, but enjoyed. The audience seemed engaged as well.
After that, we caught part of the Early Music concert by "Court and Country" which we found very fine and a joy to hear.

Then, we got seats in Crystal Ballroom B early, to watch Toastmaster John Scalzi interview astronaut Story Musgrave. What a man! As the event description says, "Story is an astronaut, surgeon, jet pilot, and landscape architect. As he flew on six Shuttle missions, bred a unique new type of palm tree, and earned graduate degrees in seven different subjects, he has ignored all conventional limits." Besides that, he seems like a genuinely modest individual, and has a good sense of humor, too. I don't recall if he plays any instruments, but, as Georgie noted, he's as much like a real-life "Buckaroo Banzai" as you are likely to meet.

We then went back through the Dealers' Room, and bought a few things, including our friend Sue Burke's translation, "Amadis of Gaul, Book 1".

We finished the program day by attending "Tolkien and Me: How and When I Was First Introduced to the Books, and the Effect it Had on My Life". While in some ways this panel had some interesting information, mainly on the history of Tolkien fandom in the US in the 1960's and 70's, most of the panelist's stories started something like, "I first read The Lord of the Rings in 19XX, and I was hooked immediately." So far, so good, but no one went into why, or what about the books appealed to them. We had to make our dinner connection so ducked out before or if anyone got around to that topic--.

Sunday evening, we skipped the Hugo Awards. All honor to the nominees and winners, but we hadn't really read or seen many of the nominees, so didn't feel that interested. Instead, we went out to dinner at a restaurant called ZED 451, which was a sufficiently interesting experience I've given it its own review, following. Back at the hotel, we hung out until the London in 2014 party opened and partook of their hospitality for a time before retiring. (London got the 2014 bid unopposed. Intriguing possibilities there--.)

Monday morning, breakfast at the hotel again. We checked out of the hotel, no problems, and caught some Chuck Jones cartoons before attending the Ray Bradbury memorial panel, which was kind nice, but kind of formless.

The trip home was not as pleasant as the trip down. Amtrak at Union Station has a 'departure lounge' that was crowded and a bit too warm. Once on the train and rolling, we were hardly to Chicago's north suburbs before we became aware of gravel being thrown up against the floor of our car, a sign that something was dragging. The train stopped, and inspection showed that it was the electrical cable connecting our car and those behind us to the front of the train. The conductors did their best to reconnect it, but the incident had also shorted out the train's power control system, so electricity couldn't be restored. This meant that we had to proceed to Milwaukee with no air conditioning. We survived, but the heat was definitely getting to me by the time we arrived. The train staff did their best, but, as we overheard one say, "Mechanical (meaning "maintenance") had failed" them. We got into Milwaukee, again, about half an hour late, and cabbed home to unpack and recover.

Glitches aside, we had a good time, saw a lot of people we hadn't seen in a long time (and often their new children/grandchildren), and enjoyed some nostalgia of the 'remember when' sort prowling the Hyatt's familiar passages.
DON'T READ THIS if you haven't seen "Prometheus" and want to have the fun of compiling your list of howlers on your own. You have been warned! (Which should be sufficient unless you are a "Prometheus" scientist--.)

Read more... )

Basically, we've got a supposedly well funded science mission staffed and run under the rules that apply to summer camps and lonely houses in slasher movies, which is really disappointing, since the traps waiting for the crew on LV-223 are deadly enough to be challenging even if the crew acted as intelligently as they ought--which would have made the situation even more scary, if maybe not as thrilling. Unfortunately, the movie makers opted for dumb thrills over intelligent true horror.
Exciting horror-movie-in-space thriller, spectacular special effects, good cast, H.R. Giger homage well done. Pity it's a cheat because in order to get to the exciting stuff, the characters have to be unbelievably stupid, especially for alleged scientists. Also, the science is ludicrously bad.
On Sunday, June 17th, we went to see "Men In Black 3".

Despite the long time passed since the second installment of the series, the actors and plotline picked up the milieu and attitude quite seamlessly.

Although Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) are still rubbing along uneasily after fourteen years of partnership, there have been some changes at the gleaming white MIB offices. Notably, agency head Zed has been replaced by Agent O (Emma Thompson).

The plot begins with evil alien Boris (aka "The Animal," a sobriquet he hates--) breaking out from a maximum security prison. Boris travels back in time to try to undo his defeat by Agent K in 1969, which intitally changes J's timestream such that he is the only who doesn't 'remember' that K died forty-three years ago. There are other, dire, results from changing the past, which send J on his own desperate jump into the past in order to restore the prober sequence of events and get K back.

This works out with the mixture of humor and adventure we have come to expect from the Men In Black. Josh Brolin, as "Young K," does an uncannily good job of looking, sounding, and acting like Tommy Lee Smith's character, and the energy between him and Smith is both new and familiar. The alien assassin, Boris (Jemaine Clement), an advance man for his race's planned invasion of Earth, is an outwardly Kingonesque warrior who alternates an urbane manner and posh accent with growling rages. CGI effects however, reveal an altogether more unsettling and inhuman creature behind the dark goggles.

There was also a very amusing performance by Michaal Stuhlbarg as "Griffin", an alien refugee who can see alternate futures, and seemed to be channeling Robin Williams as "Mork from Ork"--another blast from the past.

There's lots of good fun along the way, including checking out the (mostly) well done 1969 setting. (Neither Georgie nor I remembered quite that many hats on men, or bouffant hairdos on women, in 1969--.) What was a bit frustrating was that makeup master Rick Baker created a host of 1960's style aliens--bulbous headed green men, bug-eyed monsters, an updated "Robot Monster"--but all we got to see of them on screen was a partof blurry backgrounds panning through the MIB headquarters. Dang!

Disappointingly for an SF film, there are a number of obvious scientific and factual errors, but they are minor distractions.

Recommended for those who enjoy humorous science fiction.
Monday morning was another early start, with Georgie's panel "Can We Talk?", which dealt with intergenerational communication. There was a gratifyingly large audience for that hour on Monday morning, and Georgie, Beth Plutchak, and Kate O'Brien Wooddell lead a very interesting discussion.

Our last panel was "Religion, Magic, Science, and Politics in Speculative Fiction." Panelists were Jim Frenkel, Alex Bledsoe, Carolyn Ives Gilman, Carol Townsend, and Deirdre Murphy. It was a large panel for a too-large topic. This easily could have been four panels, and the avowed purpose of discussing how to balance these factors in SF and F never really came off, although what did get expressed was interesting to listen to.

After that, we rolled home, tired but satisfied. This year was just a particularly good convention for us: things came together really well, we met people we wanted to talk to when they hadd time to talk, etc. We are, of course, signed up for next year.
We started off a bit more slowly Sunday morning, with my first panel being "Addiction in Fiction" at 10 AM. Cassie Alexander, Victoria Janssen, Naomi Kritzer, Derek Silver and I spoke to a small but interested audience, comparing and contrasting real world addictions with those invented for plot and character purposes in fantasy and science fiction.

At 1 PM, we went to Tracy Benton's "We're Not Contortionists" presentation, which critiqued the frequently lamentable state of book-cover and comic art which frequently depicts women in anatomically unlikely poses. The enthusiastic cast of volunteer models demonstrated that a surprising number of the poses could at least be approximated, but also demonstrating how even more ridiculous they appear in real life. This was a very good-humored and fun panel.

Next up was Georgie's panel on "Baba Yaga and Other Retired Goddesses." Delia Sherman was a very interesting and interested moderator (and later said she'd gotten three new story ideas from the panel--). Georgie, Will Alexander, and Catherine Schaff-Stump talked about the significance of Baba Yaga,and her probable history. In one of those WisCon moments, a Russian woman in the audience was invited onto the panel due to her experience reading Baba Yaga stories as a girl. (Sorry I didn't catch her name, but she let us know that the 'proper' pronunciation is "Baba YaGA' with a stress on the last syllable--.)

After that, we went to the "Honoring Suzette Hayden Elgin" panel, and had a nice, if bittersweet, time, acknowleging this remarkable woman's works. A very good job was done by panelists Margaret McBride, Rachel Gold, Margie Peterson, Maevele Straw, and Amy Thompson. We were able to contribute some personal reminiscences from early WisCon days, which were appreciated.

We took our time getting an informal dinner with sandwiches from Potbelly Deli and ice cream from The Chocolate Shoppe, and still had plenty of time to get back and change for the evening.

We got decent seats for the Guest of Honor speeches. Andrea Hairston gave one of the more entertaining GoH speeches I recall, not surprising, given her work in theater, and her Baptist minister Grandfather. Debbie Notkin spoke with feeling about generosity and gratitude in life. This was followed by the Tiptree Award ceremony, wherein Andrea was given her prizes. By the time that part was over we needed to get up and move, so departed for the Sixth floor and parties until bedtime.



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