I used to think the worst casting of all time was Jack Nicholson in The Shining. The man looked like he was about to put an axe through your head the second he walked through the door, so it’s not like there was anywhere for him to go. But at least the rest of The Shining was successful, so the film worked around him.
Noah, however, collapses at the casting of Russell Crowe.
The central problem with Noah is that its main character ark (see what I did there?) is at odds with what Russell Crowe is known for delivering. If you’re looking to deliver a vegan soft-hearted guy who doesn’t want to kill anyone, Fighty McRussell is not your first choice.
And yet that’s what the film’s heart is, ostensibly, about: literally the best man in the world, someone shocked by the idea of eating animals, a man who, when confronted with the evils of the world, falls into despair and honestly believes that God wants to use him to save the animals and then let mankind die off. The journey of Noah is from good man to despair, a man who loses faith in his own children and comes to see them as sinful, worthy of being scourged. After all, he’s traumatized by seeing his Creator kill off every other living being in the world – given that mankind was what destroyed the Garden of Eden, is it that big a leap to believe that God wants his family to be the last of humanity?
But the film doesn’t back that. In the opening segment, we see three men perpetrating the shocking crime of killing an animal – for meat! And they threaten to kill Noah. And Noah becomes the Gladiator, slaughtering them with major karate moves without a second thought – the sort of glowering destruction that Russell Crowe is known for.
Problem is, that’s not what the movie actually wants to do. Russell Crowe-as-Noah kills them, shrugs, and moves on… which implies he’s killed a lot of men, and no longer cares. But since the whole point of this movie is Noah’s great love of mankind rubbing up against his hatred of man’s sins, turning this pivotal moment into a generic action sequence is precisely wrong.
My preference would be to have Noah not be a knife-slingin’ badass, the kind of man who kills awkwardly because he’s reluctant to do so – and if he has to be good at it, let it be that terrified Jackie Chan style of fighting where it’s mostly defensive and Jackie looks like he’d rather be somewhere else the entire time. But even if that’s not the case, if the goal is to show how Noah the compassionate man comes to despair, we need to see that reaction afterwards – the pain of him knowing that oh no, I’ve done this again, the terror of realizing that he too has once again been backed into the ways of Cain.
But nope. We get a shrug, and Russell Crowe stoically walks away to feel bad for the animal. And that defangs so much of the rest of the movie, it’s not even funny.
For we know plot of this movie – he’s going to build an ark, save the animals, float a while, bump into land, see the dove. So all that’s left along this journey is to provide us with surprising and fitting character moments. And having Russell Crowe, who swallows all of his emotions, be the vehicle to deliver a tale about curdled faith followed by redemption, is a wrong choice. We don’t see him struggle with his faith so much as rage against it, and “rage” is probably not the ideal choice.
I’m not sure who I would have chosen to deliver this Biblical epic – perhaps Viggo Mortenson? – but Crowe’s ill-matched.
Now, what I find fascinating about the film is that it’s criticized for elements I’d actually like to have seen more of. People complain about the half-science fiction elements of the world, with crumpled angels walking about and remnants of technology buried in the desert, but the Bible itself says the world was stranger in those days. This is a world shortly after the Fall, where the echoes of God could still be heard, where men lived a thousand years and routinely bred with angels. It was a different time – and while some are put off by Aronofsky’s interpretation, I wanted more weirdness, more of a reminder that the Earth has moved on. I wanted to see more of these great cities that drowned, instead of keeping the action to a small and distant forest. So much of the movie is just Noah in a boxy ark, with sleeping animals almost invisible in the firelight, and those shots could have been filmed in almost any warehouse.
You can complain about the weirdness of the murder angels, but seriously, read the Bible. There’s a lot weirder stuff in there, mang.
And like all of Aronofsky’s films, it’s just flat-out beautiful. He has an eye for composition, and it’s pretty… but unfortunately, yanking the tension from the Noah plotline leaves the rest of the movie feeling turgid. Look beyond the acting and to the words of the script and you can see that place where there was supposed to be a crackle-and-hum of Noah, the best man in the world, being forced up against unthinkable amounts of sin and death. What psychological damage would that grind into even the best man? Is Noah, who literally holds the fate of the Earth in his hands, stable enough to rest such a burden on?
The answer we get from Crowe is, Yeah, I’m tough. Which is an excellent answer in many movies. Just not this one.
When I expressed dread at the upcoming Star Wars movie yesterday, I got a lot of people floating their dream directors for the project. And I have to say: given the idiotic constraints Disney put on the film, JJ Abrams is probably the best director they could have gotten.
Which is to say that Disney treated Star Wars as “release date first, everything else second.” They’d locked down the date so all the other movie studios would get out of the way, and are now lurching towards that date come hell or highwater. As noted, it’s coming eighteen months from now, and they haven’t finished the script. (It took Lucas four years to write the script for the original Star Wars, and about eighteen months for everyone concerned to finish the script for Empire Strikes Back – and that was with Lucas’ overarching story notes.) Clearly, what the big D wants is “A huge profit center,” and the actual quality of the movie is secondary to dominating Christmas 2015 with the inevitable Star Wars juggernaut.
So given that a huge quality film often takes years to develop, and they needed to toss something together quick, JJ Abrams is a good choice. He’s flashy, he works quick, he’s clever.
But if we had infinite time, and Disney had treated the Star Wars films as though they were, you know, Star Wars and not some expensive direct-to-video sequel to the Lion King, who would have been best qualified to direct?
Not Kevin Smith. Disclaimer: I like Kevin Smith. He’s directed some funny movies. But I can’t recall a film of his where he’s had a memorable action sequence (and yes, I’m recalling both Dogma and Red State), and his characters are often all quips and no depth. The glory of Star Wars is that it has things both ways – Han is both snarky and a real character, as is Luke, as is Leia. Kevin Smith would certainly nail the quips, but would you really root for his heroes the way you did for Luke and Han? I doubt it. Plus, Kevin’s kind of a lazy writer.
In addition, Kevin’s a big Star Wars fanboy. That’s actually not a real bonus for me. When you have someone who treats the original material with such reverence, what you get is a sort of Christopher Columbus-does-Harry Potter movies thing where you have someone working so hard at emulation they forget to do anything actually interesting. I think Kevin, with no experience helming big-budget, high-SFX projects, would be a disaster. (Though script-doctoring? Oh, bring in Kevin!)
Not Joss Whedon.
I also like Joss, but when all this hooplah started he was committed to Marvel via an adamantium contract. I’ll hold out for quality, but I don’t really wanna wait until 2021 for my movie.
Plus, Joss needs to be restrained to work properly. When he has his own projects, he winds up making all his characters miserable. Do you really want Luke to die, Wash-style, at the end of this new Star Wars? I almost guarantee you something like that’d happen; Joss loves his heroic sacrifice, and who would be a bigger moment than watching Harrison Ford get the noble sacrifice he was pushing for all the way back in Return of the Jedi? You might see Luke and Han and Leia going out in a blaze of glory.
Given that he’s obsessed with Avatar, you’d have to back a truckload of money up – maybe even buy him the sunken remains of the Titanic.
But seriously, gripe though you might, Cameron is the spiritual successor to Lucas. Corny dialogue that actually works for most people? Check. Ability to direct the best action sequences put to film, sequences that could only really be appreciated on the big screen in an age of video streaming? Check. Familiarity with SFX? Check. Overreliance on the Campbellian hero archetype? Checkity-check.
Yes, Cameron would probably bring his techno-fetish to the new Star Wars, and make it a little more military than I’d be comfortable with. And the new Star Wars wouldn’t appear until 2018 at the earliest, even if he started the day of the announcement. (The man takes his time.) But assuming you could get him to do the job, he’d be damned perfect for it.
But Cameron would probably have turned it down (who’s to say he didn’t?), so that leaves me with my next bet…
“Who?” You ask. The guy who directed The Incredibles, that’s who – perhaps the best superhero film of this century. The guy who directed Iron Giant, and don’t you dare tell me you don’t tear up when you hear the robot saying “Superman.”
“But those are cartoons!” you say, and I’ll counter that he directed the last Mission Impossible with its breathtaking “Tom Cruise leaps off the side of a Dubai skyscraper” sequence.
Brad Bird is the perfect choice, because he really cares about melding character with action, the old Star Wars way. He’s got good lines in him (especially if you get a Kevin Smith in to funny it up). And he really knows how to direct some amazing action sequences with ratcheting tension, which is what Star Wars is known for. It’s a shame he turned Disney down because they needed him to start directing ASAP, but I’m still looking forward to Tomorrowland (coming 2015 to a theater near you).
Okay, yeah, he just bombed and bombed hard with The Lone Ranger, so nobody would want him. And his work on Pirates of the Caribbean sequels were, shall we say, exactly the sort of crappy sequel that I fear (and that Disney rushed out in the same way that they are rushing Star Wars).
But my hope is that Gore has learned his lesson – and when he’s on his game, he makes the original Pirates of the Caribbean and The Ring. He’s visually inventive, and I’ll put the original Depp-vs.-Bloom duel in Pirates, complete with witty banter, up against anything in Star Wars. If he understands that his job is to fight the studio’s onrushing deadlines and work to get only quality, I think he’d actually do a damned fine job.
Okay, the guy who brought us Noah, The Black Swan, Pi, and The Fountain would be a terrible choice, transforming the visuals into hunched dark landscapes and Luke into a zealot seeking redemption at all costs… but damn, if anyone’s going to wreck the series, I want to see the way he wrecks it.
Someone I Hadn’t Considered.
Hey, Peter Jackson was not on my radar when Lord of the Rings was announced, but he turned out to be a fine choice. “The guy who directed Evil Dead” would not have been my go-to for revitalizing Spider-Man. The Spanish guy who did that film about two dudes taking a roadtrip would not have been my pick for directing the best movie in the Harry Potter franchise.
If I was going to go for Star Wars, I’d probably skip the guys who’d had multimillion dollar hits and choose someone who’d had success with limited budgets, someone who knew how to take $1,000 and make it look like a million, someone with the same hungry eye that Lucas had when he started out. After all, if you were going to direct the new Star Wars, would you choose the guy whose biggest hit ’til then was a film about teenagers in the 1950s?
But you know, that film was American Graffiti and that director was one Mr. George Lucas, so it just goes to show: you never know.
We love the Meyers, but they are inconveniently located. We live on the West Side of Cleveland; the Meyers live on the East. And thanks to Cleveland’s bizarre reluctance to build a freeway anywhere near population centers, there is no direct route.
So instead of a twenty-minute trip, getting there is a forty-minute ride across buckled streets and dodgy neighborhoods. This makes scheduling tricky; I have to work eight hours, I have to write two hours, and if I want to see the Meyers then to the East Side’s inconvenience we must go and that’s ninety minutes vanished right there in transit.
Yet we must. Not just because they are our friends, but because our goddaughter Rebecca has brain cancer.
We don’t know how long she has. And we need to stand by our dear friends in their hour of need.
And Kat, seeing our stress, has been encouraging us to go to a cancer counselor – someone specialized in dealing with the grief and stress that comes from watching a loved one go through this. And it is stressful. We call Rebecca our godchild, but Gini pointed out to me that we were literally the first ones to lay eyes on each of the Meyer children as they arrived at the home. We’ve changed their diapers, bandaged their wounds, played with them regularly.
In a very real sense, the definition is closer to “grandchildren.”
In a very real sense, as Rebecca diminishes, so do I.
But I’ve been holding off on going to the cancer counselor, because I don’t have time to squeeze in yet another ninety minutes of driving on top of everything else. I’m glad Kat and Eric have someone to go to, but me? I can’t haul my ass over to the East side again, not for therapy, I really can’t.
Until Gini pointed out that there was also a clinic here. On the West Side. Ten minutes away. She seemed aghast that I’d think there was only one clinic to deal with Cleveland’s cancer-related psychological issues.
But really, deep in my heart, I’d subconsciously hoped that what we were going through wasn’t that common. Watching Rebecca is tearing us to shreds. Watching the Meyers is breaking our hearts. Watching ourselves struggle to face this cold reality is slicing time off our lives, the stress weighing on our bodies. I can feel the anxiety shortening my time here, and though I knew it was possible to die of heartbreak, only now do I truly feel how such a thing could happen.
I’d hoped that it was just us. But it isn’t. It’s a hundred people, a thousand, maybe hundreds of thousands over the years, dealing with this goddamned disease and the helplessness you feel as some sickness ravages someone you love, and it was okay when it was just me but knowing this is replicating across the city, the state, the nation, the globe, feels like a door has swept open and all the evils in the world are walking in.
I wanted just one clinic. Inconveniently located. Infrequently used. And the goddamn thing all but has franchises, and today that seems so unfair it makes my fingers tremble.
I saw Star Wars well over fifty times in the theater.
I met my wife in a Star Wars chat room on Compuserve, where we debated the dubious wisdom of the Death Star Trench approach.
When we got married, we put Luke and Leia on top of the cake. (I’m not a Han, and you can’t make me.)
And I am dreading the new Star Wars movie.
It’s not that I’m not excited about the idea of a new Star Wars movie, but it seems that “an idea” is all Disney had… well, that and a release date. Which they aren’t changing. So the new Star Wars is coming out next year – and they may not have finished the script, or finished casting, but by God they sure are shooting footage because when the date is looming, dammit, you start filling celluloid.
And what we’ll get, barring some miracle, will be something like Pirates of the Carribean 2 and 3 – also Disney productions that started shooting before the scripts were finalized, pretty things with plots and motivations that hold together only long enough to carry you to the next scene, stitched together with a lot of witty one-liners that you never quite remember because they’re witty like some Twitter status, not witty locked into characterization.
(“Witty locked into characterization” is like the first Pirates, where someone told Jack Sparrow “You’re the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of” and he riposted, “But you have heard of me,” which told us everything we needed to know about the Captain.)
And I like JJ Abrams, but he’s only done an okay job on Star Trek. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the movies… but I enjoy ‘em largely because I’m a Star Trek fan, and I tend to forget about them when they’re not around. Yeah, people like the new Star Trek, but do you see half as much fangirl squee about it as you do, say, Sherlock, or Doctor Who? Hell, I’ve seen more happy posts and image memes devoted to Adventure Time than I have these two movies.
The new Star Treks are fire-and-forget summer blockbusters – a good place to be, don’t get me wrong, but it’s coming from a show that was the formative fandom, literally the first adult sci-fi frenzy in history. Those old Star Treks were so popular that the fans went seven years of isolation, not a film or a show or a bone, and still they threw conventions, warming themselves by the fire of old episodes. Those old Star Treks were so popular at the time that they made Doctor Who fandom look tiny.
And now we have two movies, and if there was never a third, I don’t think anyone would have a great uproar the way people still moan for a Firefly reunion. We like those movies. They made us happy. But there’s a difference between “That’s cool” and “ZOMG I CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT THIS,” and I’d argue Doctor Who and Sherlock and even Downton Abbey fill that role more than JJ Abrams’ remakes.
And Star Wars? A high bar, man. And JJ Abrams has already shown us what he’s capable of with infinite time to work with: he’ll come up with something sleek, clever, and ultimately dispensable. I’m not bashing JJ Abrams – trying to recreate that magic is all but impossible – but JJ really does like ZOMG PLOT TWIST over character-building any day, and what people ultimately stay for is character. And what happens when the script – the thing that builds character – is being back-written to accommodate Big Splashy Action Sequences?
So I’m pretty sure what we’ll get. It will be pretty. It will be fun to watch. It will be entertaining. And it will slide out the back of our heads, getting dumped into the neglected back yard of Blockbusters We Enjoyed, and won’t take up residence in our souls. It’ll be something we’ll be happy to watch if it comes on late-night television and we’re bored.
But will it be like Princess Bride, or Galaxy Quest, or any number of other films where we don’t just consume it, but actively crave it time after time?
I hope. But I doubt.
I think Emily Asher-Perrin is the best blogger on Tor.com right now, and she wrote an article called It’s Time To Get Over Firefly. Which basically states that Firefly is overrated because a) it ended before it had a chance to disappoint us, and b) some of the impending plotlines and themes were a little troubling (specifically, the overarching themes of Southern Restoration and the appropriation of Asian themes without actual Asian people).
This caused a hubbub in certain circles. “How dare she say Firefly is overrated!” people cried, rallying the flags, and I’m all like What, hey, why?
I don’t get that defensiveness over fandom. I never have.
I love old-school Doctor Who. But the episodes are padded, the special effects are laughable, and the acting is often wooden. So what? I can acknowledge those flaws and not have them bother me. If I waited for a show to be perfect on every level before I could enjoy it, then I’d never watch a damn thing.
And even if I thought the acting on old-school Who was wonderful, hey, it’s a big world. Some people think Daniel Day-Lewis, the most acclaimed thespian of our generation, is a terrible actor.
Am I such a neurotic that I cannot enjoy something until everyone loves it in the way I do?
And I see all these silly fandom scuffles where people get really bent out of shape because You Do Not Understand The True Batman or ZOMG How Can You Not Love Star Wars and You Dumbass Picard Is Way Better Than Kirk, and some people are getting seriously upset over these things – as though they cannot rest until everyone shares their opinions. As though somehow, a difference in taste is a wound to their very soul.
And I think what happens is that people are making the silly error that “I love it” means “It is perfect.” This is a thought process that inevitably leads to ruin, whether it’s in fandom or work or in romance. Something can sweep you up in whirls of dizzying rapture, but it’s not that it doesn’t have flaws – it’s that you don’t mind them. (Usually because the good stuff is so damned good that you may not even notice the fractures in the background.)
Look, I get that this TV show or movie or comic book has spoken to something deep within you. It expressed something important about your very nature in a way that you wished you’d been able to do it, becoming in a very real sense a part of you. And that’s great. That’s the power of fiction.
But then people make the leap of, “Well, if I like it, then everyone should!”, turning their love into a popularity contest, acting as if they can make this show as well-loved as possible then somehow they’ve vindicated something about themselves. And their fandom mutates away from expressing a love for the show and into a sort of baffled belligerence that anyone could ever not like this thing so crucial to them.
Then they do the usual thing zealots do – they get angry whenever anyone points out an error with the thing they love, they take it personally, and they try to stomp that opposition to the curb so no one brings up this troubling issue ever again. It ceases to be a fandom and more like a religion, where the One Truth Faith must prove itself over the bodies of others.
Look. Pointing out flaws shouldn’t destroy your enjoyment. Poke deeply at the greatest works of art in the world, and you’ll find so-called flaws. Those flaws bother some people, don’t bother others. They don’t bother you, apparently, and that’s all that should matter. Love shouldn’t consist of a battle to the death to justify its existence – there will always be people who don’t like what you do. There will always be people who don’t believe as you do. And as long as they’re not trying to cancel your show (hint: pretty much no fan is ever trying to cancel your show, and none successfully), then their difference of opinion shouldn’t matter.
Relax. Sit back. Let all of those other people roll on with their hatred. The glory of the Internet is that you can find people who like what you do, and fandom should be about accentuating and deepening that like instead of angrily justifying what you enjoy to people who wouldn’t like it anyway.
It’s a big world. Big enough you can sit back in your living room and read the words of people who agree with you. And on those occasions you find someone who disagrees violently, it’s okay to clear your browser cache and move the fuck on.
Who is the most popular character on my blog? If you think it’s me, you’re wrong.
Basing popularity on “How often people ask about them,” the most popular person on this blog is… my bees.
And I have good news! Watch this video!
That’s right – the bees survived the winter. Which was a very uncertain thing for a while. We saw the bees doing cleansing flights a while back (bees do not poop all winter, instead waiting for spring to do their business outside the hive), but then we had several cold snaps again in March and didn’t see them for a month. It was entirely possible that the bees had died in that chilly final stretch, which included four inches of wet snow on the final weekend in March.
Ah, Cleveland. We love your weather.
Better yet, we know the queen survived, because these were new bees. How can you tell? Well, younger bees do an “orientation flight” around the front of the hive, zigzagging back and forth as they map what home looks like before venturing forth, and the hive was alight with lots of bees making sense of the place. So the queen is inside, laying eggs – precisely what we want our queen to do.
But which bees are these? Long-term readers will know that our original bees were the Good Bees – well-tempered bees that hardly ever stung, accepting of our constant novice intrusions. The queen in that hive died off and our attempt to re-queen didn’t take, so sadly, the Good Bees all died. We replaced them with the Bad Bees – very hostile suckers who stung every time we got near them, and chased anyone who got near the hive. We didn’t feed those fuckers and they died off last winter, much to our relief.
So who are these? These are the Mystery Bees. We intended to take care of them, but we went on a trip to Hawaii in July and then Rebecca was diagnosed with brain cancer when we got back in August, so we pretty much ignored them from July on. We don’t know their temperament. Alas, thanks to crazy life-issues, we have become bee-havers, not bee-keepers (as they say scornfully at the meetings), and so we must learn to take care of these guys once we get better gloves. (The mice ate the fingertips out of our gloves.)
We’ll be doing a hive inspection once the weather warms up a bit. But it looks like we’ve got a hive in somewhat working order. That’s a bit of nice news, something we’ve been short on lately.
On Saturday, I posted this half-assed bit of Twitter activism:
— Ferrett Steinmetz (@ferretthimself) April 5, 2014
You can go read the link if you want to find out what the hubbub was about, but basically, like many restaurants, Chili’s has various “days” where it donates some percentage of its profits to charity. The charity in question was the National Autism Association – who could be against helping Autism?
Well, I could, as it turns out, since they’re apparently notoriously anti-vaccination. (And if you’re anti-vaccination, then please. I’d tell you to educate yourself elsewhere, but if you were capable of doing the math on it, you’d have done it by now. Suffice it to say that your beliefs are doing a lot of harm to a lot of kids – and even if you were completely, 100% correct in your fears [which you are not], you’re basically saying, “I’d rather my kids die than get autism!” Which, you know, not so wonderful an approach.)
And I’m pretty sure I know how this happened: some overworked schmuck at the Chili’s HQ with a ton of work on their plate saw “National Autism Association,” said, “That sounds nice,” and approved it. That person had never had an Internet come crashing down on their head before, because usually charities to help sick people don’t come with nefarious controversies attached to them, and hadn’t done the research beyond ascertaining that they were a legitimate organization.
And so, when Chili’s reversed course, I said, “Okay, fair enough, thank you,” and undid my boycott. (Not that it was much of a boycott anyway, seeing as I haven’t eaten at Chili’s in a decade. My real boycott with Chili’s involves a lack of enthusiasm about their food.)
Now here’s the thing you have to remember about boycotts:
If you boycott someone permanently, you’re fucking up the boycott.
The whole point of a boycott is that there is forgiveness at the end – a way for these companies to get your money back. I’ve been boycotting Chick-Fil-A for over a decade now, and it’s anguish, as they’re right across the street from me and I love their food and especially their delicious breakfasts. But they’re anti-gay, and keep doing stupid anti-gay things just often enough that I’m unconvinced that I’m not hurting gay rights’ causes by filling their coffers, and so I stay away.
But if they were to do an about-face that I was comfortable with – which would, admittedly, be a high bar after years and years of disappointment – I would probably buy there more. I would reward them for doing the right thing at last, even though it took years, because when you’re dealing with something as fiduciarily-motivated as a soulless business entity, the only form of motivation they understand is dollars over the transom.
Now, I saw a handful of folks who were still fuming at Chili’s for giving money to anti-vaxxers, saying, “Well, I’ll never eat there again!” Those people are almost as dumb as the anti-vaxxers. If you yank away your money permanently, what you are teaching companies is, “The slightest mistake will cost you customers you can never get back again” – which, in this day of exceptional sensitivity and Internet-stoked fires, could be any mistake.
No. You must teach them, “You can piss us off, but you can also work to win our forgiveness.” Which encourages them to do the right thing as we define it. If you’ve dropped Mozilla because the CEO donated to Proposition 8 and now refuse to use Firefox ever again based on a single error, you’re doing it wrong.
People will screw up. You have screwed up – I guarantee this. And if all it takes for you to abandon someone forever is a single error, then you’re inflexible and punishing. Allow the companies to err just as people do – because remember, like Soylent Green, multinational corporations are made of people, and usually underpaid people trying to work under the rapid pressures of idiot bosses. Not every error is a concealed agenda, indicating that this company is committed to destroy everything you love. This is a complicated world, and things frequently get lost in the whirlwind of other concerns, and it’s frequently not obvious just how awful this is until someone with more experience looks at it.
Chili’s screwed up. They made it right, and I’m pretty sure they’ll do better vetting next time. In this imperfect world that’s all I can ask, and in this imperfect world all I can ask is that you occasionally allow a screwup to be just a “whoops.”
There is a certain grace in accepting an apology. Learn to do so, when you can.