Michelle Yeoh Double Feature

Stills from Everything Everywhere All At Once and Minions: The Rise of Gru

Last night we checked out the movie every­one’s been rav­ing about: Every­thing Every­where All At Once. It was a great film, hilar­i­ous and heart-rend­ing, touch­ing on com­pli­cat­ed themes[1]I kept think­ing about some of Borges’s “games with infin­i­ty” sto­ries, espe­cial­ly when Joy was talk­ing about her expe­ri­ences with the mul­ti­verse.. I nev­er thought I’d feel emo­tion­al watch­ing a stone with goo­gly eyes roll off a cliff, but here we are. If you’re look­ing for a film filled with love, despair, tax prob­lems, kung fu, mul­ti­verse-hop­ping, and wild cos­tum­ing, this is the one for you.

Then, stand­ing in the lob­by after the show, we decid­ed to also watch Min­ions: The Rise of Gru. This was a much less com­plex film, but fun in its own way. I thought it might be a “How Gru Met His Min­ions” ori­gin sto­ry, but they were already togeth­er at the begin­ning; it’s more of a “Gru’s First Crime” tale instead. If you want a sil­ly caper filled with yel­low non­sense-spout­ing blobs in den­im over­alls, this is the one for you. (I appre­ci­at­ed some of the sight gags: in one scene, three Min­ions con­struct elab­o­rate disguise—including one paint­ing itself like a brick wall—to infil­trate a vil­lain’s lair, even though there’s a stack of blue-and-yel­low bags of fer­til­iz­er lying on the lawn; in the end cred­its, there’s a draw­ing of the Min­ions’ Hal­loween costumes—Oompa Loompas.)

The con­nect­ing thread: Michelle Yeoh, who played Eve­lyn Wang (the main char­ac­ter) in Every­thing Every­where All At Once and voiced Mas­ter Chow (who taught the Min­ions kung fu) in Min­ions: The Rise of Gru.

I enjoyed both movies for vast­ly dif­fer­ent rea­sons. Good times.

Foot­notes

Foot­notes
1 I kept think­ing about some of Borges’s “games with infin­i­ty” sto­ries, espe­cial­ly when Joy was talk­ing about her expe­ri­ences with the multiverse.

Top Gun redux

F-18 fighter jet in a steep climb. Photo by Darren Nunis.

I watched Top Gun: Toppest Gun[1]OK, fine, Top Gun: Mav­er­ick. last night. The movie, once it got going[2]It was 25 min­utes late start­ing; at least three dif­fer­ent peo­ple, myself includ­ed, went to ask when they planned to start the movie., was—

Well, it was a Top Gun movie, that’s for sure.

(For con­text, I was in Air Cadets as a youth in the 1980s, and so I was legal­ly oblig­at­ed to see Top Gun approx­i­mate­ly 6.02×10²³ times.)

There was Tom Cruise fly­ing planes worth qua­jil­lions of dol­lars. There was Tom Cruise charm­ing a lady. There was Tom Cruise rid­ing a motor­bike with no hel­met because that’s what heroes do. There was Tom Cruise, being brash and break­ing all the rules. There was Tom Cruise grin­ning boy­ish­ly, end­less­ly. (“This is my only look,” indeed.)

Aside from Tom Cruise, there were oth­er items in this movie. There was Val Kilmer in the Admi­ral­ty now. There was a shirt­less game with balls (more oval this time). There was a smirk­ing jerk pilot and an elite fight­er pilot who need­ed glass­es (wait what)[3]If they explained why his call­sign was “Bob”, I missed it.. There was a very very tight time­line that they still inter­rupt­ed for an impor­tant funer­al. There was dog­fight train­ing and a bar­room sin­ga­long and some very very hand­waved geopol­i­tics. There was a trench run with a tar­get not much larg­er than a womp rat[4]Wait, that might be a dif­fer­ent fran­chise with a sequel 30+ years in the mak­ing.. There was dogfighting—good thing they trained for it.

There were jet planes. Oh my word, there were jet planes. Some of them were fifth-gen­er­a­tion, what­ev­er that means; bet­ter than F‑18s in every way, appar­ent­ly, though (spoil­er alert) it sure did­n’t end up seem­ing like it. There was a sin­gle, incred­i­bly con­ve­nient F‑14.

There were tail­hooks and cat­a­pults and mis­siles and chaff and “out of mis­siles, switch­ing to guns”. There was a yel­low-tinged mon­tage of fight­er jets depart­ing a car­ri­er to the dul­cet tones of Ken­ny Log­gins’ “Dan­ger Zone”.

I went into this movie with a bad atti­tude, I’ll admit it. Most of the mol of times I watched the first movie weren’t my choice; at Cadet camp, the first per­son to get to the staff lounge got to pick the movie for the night, and most every­one else want­ed to watch Top Gun again[5]And again and again and again..

The movie deliv­ered in a lot of ways. I can see where peo­ple and crit­ics like it. The actors are all very very good, the bit of nec­es­sary expo­si­tion when we’re intro­duced to The New Crop of Top Guns is han­dled about as well as it could be[6]Expo­si­tion is always a tightrope between eye-rolling “as you know, Bob” dia­logue vs. the audi­ence lat­er say­ing “OK, now who’s this per­son?”, and the stunts are breath­tak­ing. I admit I laughed a few times (the “What were you think­ing?” “You told me not to think!” “…Touché.” exchange was well-played, I thought).

I got what I expect­ed. I got a Top Gun movie. I still don’t know if that’s what I wanted.

Cov­er pho­to by Dar­ren Nunis on Unsplash. This is not one of the F‑18s in Top Gun.

Foot­notes

Foot­notes
1 OK, fine, Top Gun: Mav­er­ick.
2 It was 25 min­utes late start­ing; at least three dif­fer­ent peo­ple, myself includ­ed, went to ask when they planned to start the movie.
3 If they explained why his call­sign was “Bob”, I missed it.
4 Wait, that might be a dif­fer­ent fran­chise with a sequel 30+ years in the making.
5 And again and again and again.
6 Expo­si­tion is always a tightrope between eye-rolling “as you know, Bob” dia­logue vs. the audi­ence lat­er say­ing “OK, now who’s this person?”

Alternate Plains reviewed

Cover of Alternate Plains

Alter­nate Plains has been reviewed by Joanne Kel­ly in the Win­nipeg Free Press. She gave the anthol­o­gy a thumbs-up:

The 12 sto­ries will give you, in most cas­es, the creeps and a few good jump frights, while also offer­ing some chal­leng­ing and thought-pro­vok­ing visions of life on the Prairies — now and in the future.

My sto­ry, “Sum­mer­time in the Void”, got a spe­cif­ic men­tion, which makes me happy.

Sto­ries such as Sum­mer­time in the Void are great book-club fodder¹.

In it, Patrick Johan­neson cre­ates a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic vision where almost all of human­i­ty tran­scends to the after­life, but God has left a few peo­ple behind: 4,229,000 peo­ple, to be exact. When the main char­ac­ter demands to know why, God tells him: “Your mind, John. It’s mis­shapen. Its scent is wrong. It’s coloured out­side the lines… your thoughts, your emo­tions, are too far diver­gent from the rest of the peo­ple. You live too far out­side the norm.”

You can get Alter­nate Plains at fin­er book­stores every­where, includ­ing McNal­ly Robin­son, and appar­ent­ly there’s a copy in Coles in the Bran­don Shop­per’s Mall (at least there was last time I checked online).


¹ In that vein, for any­one who’s already read the sto­ry, I have a cou­ple book-club ques­tions to ponder:

  1. Is “Saul” spelled cor­rect­ly? Why or why not?
  2. How long does the action in the sto­ry actu­al­ly last?

Review: Velvet Was the Night

Cover: Velvet Was the Night

A young woman has van­ished. Her neigh­bour Maite is look­ing for her because she’s not will­ing to feed her cat for­ev­er. A pos­si­bly CIA-fund­ed gang­ster, El Elvis, is look­ing for her too, for some­what dark­er reasons.

Vel­vet Was the Night by Sil­via Moreno-Gar­cia is a mys­tery nov­el, a slow-burn noir set in Mex­i­co City in the 1970s. It’s fun­ny, trag­ic, star­tling, and vio­lent. It’s full of comics and Elvis and unrest. It’s ter­ri­fy­ing at times, sad at oth­er times, and full of char­ac­ters you root for and against, even if you’re not real­ly sure you’d want to meet them.

I thought it was great, and I’m look­ing for­ward to read­ing more from this author.

Buy a copy: McNal­ly-Robin­son | Book­shop | Ama­zon, if you must

Slaughterhouse-Five: the graphic novel

As beau­ti­ful, haunt­ing, fun­ny, and bru­tal as the orig­i­nal nov­el. The art is amaz­ing, and com­ple­ments the sto­ry perfectly.

My review on Goodreads

I first encoun­tered Kurt Von­negut, Jr., when my room­mate in first-year uni­ver­si­ty was read­ing Galá­pa­gos in an Eng­lish course. I read the nov­el and decid­ed it was garbage¹. It just kind of… end­ed. I did­n’t see the point. Von­negut, I decid­ed, was overrated.

Years lat­er, I decid­ed to give Von­negut anoth­er try, and I read what is, in my mind, his most famous nov­el: Slaugh­ter­house-Five. Maybe it’s because I was old­er, maybe it’s because it was a straight-up anti­war SF nov­el, maybe it was because I knew bet­ter what to expect, but I loved it. I went on to read sev­er­al oth­er Von­negut nov­els (Cat’s Cra­dle, Break­fast of Cham­pi­ons, Time­quake), and I’ve loved each one. Von­negut’s nov­els are dif­fer­ent, I think, because they don’t gen­er­al­ly have a vil­lain. They’re just… the way things are.

So it goes.

And then I heard that Ryan North, of Dinosaur Comics, was involved in a graph­ic nov­el retelling of Slaugh­ter­house-Five, and I knew I had to have it. So I pre-ordered it from McNal­ly Robin­son, and it arrived last week.

It’s great. The two-page spreads of Dres­den are, respec­tive­ly, beau­ti­ful and hor­ri­fy­ing. The sto­ry flows like a Von­negut nov­el, and the art com­ple­ments the sto­ry so, so well.

High­ly rec­om­mend­ed for fans of Von­negut’s nov­els, graph­ic nov­els, or anti-war stories.


¹ When Kurt died and went to Heav­en², I re-read Galá­pa­gos, and this time I thought it was great.

² At a memo­r­i­al ser­vice for Isaac Asi­mov, an athe­ist, Vonnegut—also an atheist—said, “Isaac’s up in Heav­en now,” because it was the fun­ni­est thing he could think of to say. So it goes. So it goes.

Steven Page in Concert

[photo of the concert ticket]

A cou­ple nights ago we went to see Steven Page in con­cert at the West­man Cen­ten­ni­al Audi­to­ri­um. It’s been a while; he has­n’t been to Bran­don in twen­ty-five years. He was on tour with Craig Northey of The Odds and Kevin Fox, a cellist.

The show was amaz­ing. I con­fess, I did­n’t know much of Page’s new­er stuff, but what I heard I liked. We end­ed up buy­ing a cou­ple CDs dur­ing the inter­mis­sion, so I look for­ward to hear­ing more of his recent work.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Steven Page in Con­cert”

Review: This is How You Lose the Time War

Signed copy of the novel

I was­n’t going to buy any books on our Ottawa trip. I was­n’t. I have too many books already at home.

Then we were walk­ing back to the hotel from Byward Mar­ket, and we stopped in at Chap­ters, and I found myself in the SF/F sec­tion hold­ing a copy of This is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar (an Ottawa writer) and Max Glad­stone. I opened the book, intend­ing to skim the first chap­ter and then set it back on the shelf, intend­ing to go home and request a copy from my local library.

But I found Amal’s sig­na­ture on the title page, and well, long sto­ry short, I bought the book.

It’s a wild ride, a time-trav­el novel­la about two agents work­ing on oppo­site sides of a time war. Red works for the Agency, a tech-based orga­ni­za­tion, and Blue works for Gar­den, an orga­ni­za­tion that might be an organ­ism. They write each oth­er let­ters across the time­lines, the threads of his­to­ry and future, at first to taunt each oth­er (“Nyah nyah, you’re gonna lose!” “Are not!” “Are too!”) and, lat­er, as they get to know each oth­er, to express their feel­ings for each other.

The epis­to­lary affair spans all of his­to­ry, most­ly in var­i­ous ver­sions of Earth (at one point, one of the char­ac­ters goes to see Romeo and Juli­et, to find out if it’s a tragedy or a com­e­dy in her cur­rent time­line), but some­times on oth­er worlds or even in the vac­u­um of space. Red and Blue’s rela­tion­ship pro­gress­es upthread and down­thread, through past and future, in let­ters writ­ten in some of the weird­est stegano­graph­ic ways I’ve seen: one is writ­ten in a vol­cano, anoth­er in a thorn­bush grown over a year from a seed. Only one, if I recall cor­rect­ly, is writ­ten in ink on paper.

The writ­ing itself—Amal’s and Max’s, I mean, not Red’s and Blue’s—is beau­ti­ful­ly wrought, by turns amus­ing and hor­ri­fy­ing. Moments as calm and sedate as a woman braid­ing her hair or enjoy­ing tea con­trast with the same woman, pages lat­er, wash­ing her hands after slit­ting some­one’s throat.

And the lan­guage! I’m pret­ty proud of my vocab­u­lary, but the authors, in their search for le mot juste, more than once sent me to the dic­tio­nary to make sure I under­stood the pre­cise point or image they were try­ing to convey.

I enjoyed the novel­la, with its twists and turns, its hunter-vs.-hunted sto­ry chas­ing itself down the cor­ri­dors of time. High­ly recommended.

Buy it from McNal­ly-Robin­son or Indiebound.

Another Parallel Prairies review

The cover of Parallel Prairies

Update: I’m feel­ing a lit­tle slow, eh, because I only just now noticed that it’s Amaz­ing Sto­ries that reviewed Par­al­lel Prairies. Amaz­ing Sto­ries just reviewed my writing.

Dar­ren Rid­g­ley, one of the edi­tor of Par­al­lel Prairies, just tweet­ed a link to a new review of the anthol­o­gy. It appears the review­er enjoyed my lit­tle tale of demen­tia and alien visitation:

What makes this sto­ry fun to read is Vincent’s deter­mi­na­tion to pro­tect Char­lie from the agents. […] Amus­ing. With a tinge of sadness.

R. Graeme Cameron

He also liked the anthol­o­gy as a whole:

This anthol­o­gy fea­tures a col­lec­tion of sto­ries rang­ing far wider than I antic­i­pat­ed. There is, per­haps, a Cana­da-wide ten­den­cy to under­es­ti­mate Man­i­to­ba. […] Amaz­ing what sto­ries the con­trib­u­tors wrest­ed from its soil. I con­fess this book exceed­ed my expec­ta­tions. Well worth reading.

R. Graeme Cameron

If you’d like a copy of Par­al­lel Prairies, you can get it from McNal­ly Robin­son.

The Twilight Zone

I real­ly want to like the new The Twi­light Zone. But I think the prob­lem with an anthol­o­gy series is that you’re always start­ing from square one. Every episode requires an all-new round of expo­si­tion, and expo­si­tion is hard to do well.

I real­ly don’t like the “as you know, Sal­ly” style of expos­i­to­ry dia­logue, where char­ac­ters say things to each oth­er that they both already know, for the ben­e­fit of the audi­ence. It sticks out like the cliché sore thumb for me.

And there’s a lot of it in this first sea­son of The Twi­light Zone.

Maybe it’ll get bet­ter, but so far I’m on the sixth episode, and it’s not been liv­ing up to my hopes.

(On the plus side, the act­ing has been top-notch, across all the episodes. Even the child actors have most­ly impressed me.)

Update

Well, episode 6“Six Degrees of Free­dom” — was def­i­nite­ly a brighter spot, at least for me. It had some issues, sure — tech­ni­cal quib­bles on the lev­el of CBC’s SF attempt Ascen­sion, q.v., but at least they tried hard­er. (For instance, they gave a rea­son, how­ev­er ludi­crous, that the Mars ship would have arti­fi­cial grav­i­ty.) The sto­ry, though, man­age to cap­ture me and hold me till its end, even with a bit of clunky “as you know, Kather­ine” bits of infodump.

Seems I can for­give a bit of clunky writ­ing if the over­all sto­ry is good enough.