Movie review: Geostorm

Well, folks, I did it. I saw the worst movie I’ve ever seen. During the last five-ish minutes of GEOSTORM, someone says, “See if one of the [space] shuttles can turn around.” YES. A Space Shuttle that can just come about real quick and pick up Our Hero. Who has taken refuge in a weather satellite and is signalling “Mayday” in morse code using the manual thrusters on the satellite. Because that’s all stuff that can happen. GEOSTORM (you have to say it in caps) is so bad, it makes San Andreas look good. After the night I’ve had, I would love to watch San Andreas again. After this movie, I’d watch Lockout again, and I haaaated Lockout.

So, first of all, because I know you’re all concerned: Gerard Butler is speaking in his standard Tortured American dialect. (In my dad’s words, “It’s like he swallowed a Scotsman, who is trying to get out.”) However! Gerry does say at one point that he and his brother were “born in the UK,” like that helps.

GEOSTORM is a Monster Mash for every natural disaster/we-need-to-save-the-world-with-science trope for the last twenty years. Day After Tomorrow meets Armaggedon meets Deep Impact meets Battleship meets Independence Day and yes, I know those last two involve aliens. I cannot tell you how much I wished for aliens, sitting in that theater. These films are their own genre at this point, with their own curve to grade on. This one can’t even climb on to the low end.

GEOSTORM stars Gerard Butler, doing absolutely not what he does best. The ensemble cast really commits, which would be great, except they’re bland and forgettable and have no individual characterizations. Except for Andy Garcia and Ed Harris, who are “the President of the United States, but not universally hated and played by Andy Garcia,” and “Ed Harris in all these movies,” respectively.

Remember how Darren Aronofsky said Mother! was an allegory for environmentalism? This movie halfheartedly tries to brush up against philosophical questions about “playing god,” but in the world of GEOSTORM, playing god is the only way to save everyone because we’ve wrecked the planet, but it’s fine, because we have a net of satellites that somehow stops things on an event-by-event basis. Instead of, I don’t know, cooling down the planet on a regular basis? 

The satellite network, called Dutchboy–I think it’s one word, the kerning in the onscreen location announcements was as badly designed as everything else–is what keeps the planet from devolving into massive weather events that kill people. Yes! Human beings figured out a way to control the weather! By firing tiny little torpedoes of weather into the atmosphere and… convincing the weather to stop? Distracting it? Listening to its problems with compassion and respect? I don’t know, I’m not a scientist. (Nor was anyone who worked on this film. I’m not sure, given how they talked about encryption and viruses, that anyone who worked on it has touched a computer before. Maybe this movie was written entirely on cuneiform tablets!)

This movie learned about science from watching other movies. The ISS has ballooned in only maybe fifteen years from our present day into a space complex with full gravity that supports six hundred people and is a command station for the network of thousands and thousands of different kinds of satellites protecting our world. I’m not a demanding audience. Really, truly. I’ll watch all kinds of dreck. But much of the force of epic natural disaster movies, especially ones that are trying as hard as ever they can to Make A Point, comes from verisimilitude. The US doesn’t currently have a working Space Shuttle or the infrastructure necessary to produce one! Could we have traded out one truly vacuous argument between brothers about who gets to order who around for a little bit of back story about where we suddenly got all this science from?

GEOSTORM presents Dutchboy as a vast, international effort–seventeen countries! They say that about half a dozen times, and yet I wasn’t sure what the non-Gerard Butler Lawson brother’s name was–as something that happened nearly overnight.

“We have engineers here. And coders. And builders.”
–Some words spoken by a human in this movie.

Whoever zapped this poor corpse of a script with special effects lightning until it began lumbering around, terrorizing the countryside, has a lot to answer for.

For one thing, no one seems to understand emotional stakes. When the stakes are “The satellite network we rely on to continue living on this planet is malfunctioning and targeting populated areas with horrifying weather events that kill people,” I really couldn’t care less about whether the Lawson brothers are going to forgive each other for some bizarre weirdness involving a job and a senate subcommittee and their family issues. Or whether the younger brother will get to marry his Secret Service agent girlfriend, who somehow he lives with, even though they’re not allowed to date because of her job. But seriously. I don’t care. The weather is killing people. Get your priorities straight.

The politics of who the movie decides to kill to make a point and who it leaves alive, but damaged, and who it doesn’t show being damaged at all, are interesting, from a meta, America-centric perspective. But not very interesting. As bland and eyeroll-inducing and predictable as the rest of the movie. They make an effort at background diversity, then treat POC much worse than the white characters. And all the main characters are white. How has this gotten worse in the last twenty years?

I can’t go into all the plot holes and inconsistencies and WHO CARES?! moments in this movie. I love myself more than that. But honorable mention must be made to the giant countdown clock, a self-destruct sequence on the ISS, a boy and his dog surviving the terrible tragedy, a father keeping his promise to his daughter to “come home,” TWO leaden voiceovers about climate change, an unexamined drinking problem, and Richard Schiff.

There were a couple of things that weren’t terrible. Or could have not been terrible, in a better movie.

Thing one: Gerard Butler’s inexplicable casting could have worked! He isn’t usually booked as a super-nerd, in wrestling terms. That’s not his thing, you know? All action stars have their things. But for all that, the best parts of the movie are when he is alone, giddy with joy that he’s going back into space, being reunited with this global weather satellite network that he built. It’s the only time the movie connects emotionally at all. When the main character is completely alone. That’s a good sign!

But his character is so mishandled. We’re given to believe that this brilliant scientific and engineering mind who is personally credited with saving the world gets fired from a job he loves–LOVES–more than anything, and just slumps into a stupor, instead of, I don’t know, founding a tech company and continuing to work on the problems facing the planet on his own. He’s souping up electric cars for retirees, not working for an NGO while making hundreds of millions of dollars in consulting fees? He’s all bent out of shape about answering to his younger brother instead of leaping at the chance to get his hands on his mutant mechanical space brain-baby again? That does not sound like any of the engineers I know, or any of the engineers you know, or any of the engineers ever.

Thing two: I choked up a little when I saw a shot of what Cape Canaveral looks like in this world–row upon row of Space Shuttles on booster rockets, ready to go into space, with so many flags on the side of each shuttle.

Those two things were in the same minute of screen time. Maybe two minutes. The movie was one hour and forty-nine minutes long. So there you go. Every choice they made was wrong. Every single one.

It’s really bad. It’s a void where a film ought to have been. Not for any flaw in particular. Just irrepressible, inexorable badness. And watching the onscreen death of millions of people is kind of depressing, honestly. Right now more than ever.

The Price of Admission

Action movies. My loves. My dearest cinematic joys on this earth. The lingua franca of many of my relationships and friendships, my stock in trade. I don’t look forward to them, these days.Something inside me snapped. Good job, Hollywood! It only took fifteen years for you to break me. I still love going to the movies, but there are things I don’t want to watch any more.

I don’t want to see the one woman who speaks belittled. I don’t want to see her hurt. I don’t want to see her pressed up against a villain with a knife to her throat as he makes pronouncements or threatens her to get to Our Hero. I don’t want to see her smacked around or thrown into a wall or murdered for having sex with someone. (As direct cause/effect in the narrative, or as moral judgment of the meta-narrative, or even just because whatever the hell, there was a woman, and we need to show something about this dude, so… he hits her? Yeah? Good. Men who hit women are Bad Mans. Except when the good guy hits women, that’s because he needed her to shut up or needed to look tough or you know, just, whatever. Don’t be so sensitive. It’s just a movie.)

Of course we buy their love story. He's condescending, she's impatient. Match: made.

Of course we buy their love story. He’s condescending, she’s impatient. Match: made.

I saw Mission Impossible: The One With The Giant Plane Stunt a couple of weeks ago, and spent the whole movie waiting for Rebecca Ferguson’s character to be sexually assaulted. The entire two hours-plus of movie, and all I could think was “Does it happen now? Is it going to happen now? The pace has gotten a little slow here, are they going to put her in peril now? Maybe now?” It’s not a particularly nice place to be, guys. I was shocked when she walked off unraped. That’s where we are.

Tried to rewatch the first two Transporter movies the other night. Couldn’t get through either of them. These are movies I loved, these are movies I defended on the basis of their quality. I have the same reaction thinking about many of the action movies I’ve seen over the years. I have devoted precious brain space to thinking about how action stars are created and their careers and arcs maintained over multiple movies even when they aren’t in the same series. I have nursed crushes on the men who star in them. I’m not ashamed of this, exactly. It’s like the end of a mediocre relationship. I’m upset that I wasted so much time on something that didn’t deserve me.

Spoiler alert: they fuck.

Spoiler alert: they fuck.

The price of admission to an action movie is understanding that I’m going to be scared in a way my cis male movie-going companions are not going to be scared. I’m going to be anxious the whole time. The price of admission is knowing that I have to laugh when women are the visual butt (or bust) of the joke. That I have to go in with a hard heart and clenched jaw, because I know what’s coming for me.

Women in these movies are portrayed as either blocks of ice who know how to punch, and are punished accordingly, or as useless wads of dryer lint there to be stared at and laughed at if they try to do anything. Especially when it’s something that, if you squint, looks a lot like something the male protagonist would be applauded for doing. Sometimes they’re actually helpful and good for the plot and are made sympathetic. I worry the most for these women. Kate Mara’s character in Shooter, for example. She was great, and she was raped and tortured at the hands of the film’s villain. Unnecessarily. Gratuitously. The movie had already established him as beyond redemption. They just wanted to show a woman shaking and traumatized at the hands of her attacker. I think she maybe gets to shoot him in the chest? Maybe that’s how he dies? I don’t remember exactly, that movie in particular upset the hell out of me.

This is necessary. Instead of fridged, she's dishwashed. And by dishwashed, I mean raped.

This definitely seems necessary. Instead of fridged, she’s dishwashered. And by dishwashered, I mean raped.

And, for all that, I love these movies. I’m a biased observer for them. I’m an apologist. When the latest Jurassic Park movie yanks feminism and gender relationships back to a particularly poorly conceived Spencer Tracey/Katherine Hepburn movie, I want it not to be true. I want to think that I’m watching something subversive, that I’m in on the joke with the film’s creators, but I’m not. I’m on the outside, and I am meant to be on the outside. I’m going to be kept there with sexual assault and sexist jokes, with cinematography that highlights these meaningless secondary sexual characteristics on my chest (I’m looking at you, Joss Whedon) instead of my face.

Three movies, all put out in the last three years, have delighted me. I could watch them over and over again and never watch any others. Pacific RimJupiter Ascending, and Mad Max: Fury Road. Those movies understood my presence in the theater, two of them explicitly catering to it. They welcomed me. They gave me respect. Me. Not “women.” Not “feminism.” Not a generalization or an abstract socio-political construct or movement.

Me. My self.

Saving the world. Fully dressed. It could only happen in science fiction. (And yet, so rarely does.)

Saving the world. Fully dressed. It could only happen in science fiction. (And yet, so rarely does.)

All three are speculative. The levels of personal agency, narrative importance, and actual exploration of some facet of womanhood reached in the very occasional sci-fi movie are pretty much unheard-of in straight action movies. I can think of one that can squeak in on the very barest suggestion of a technicality, but really, if we still have to go back to Demi Moore shaving her hair off in a military drama from 1997 (in a film where the presupposed foregone conclusion of her brutal rape is used as a lesson for her teammates rather than herself) I’m comfortable calling misogynistic bullshit when I see it. Which is often.

There is some room for apologists like me to wiggle. MI:PLANE STUNT OMG DID YOU SEE WHAT HE DID is a case in point. The woman does not become Ethan Hunt’s sex prize du jour, she drives off into the sunset and what one assumes is an extremely lucrative retirement. There have been a few others lately that surprised me pleasantly with how much not-rape they contained. Most are still as trope-y as ever, woo the Crazy!Uterine!Killers clubmembers and the Mostly!Useless!But!Still!Fuckable girls and the Bitch-Who-Will-See-The-Error-Of-Her-Bitchy-Ways-And-Get-On-Board-With-Smooching-The-Minimally-Adequate-Hero bitches and the Why-Is-She-Even-Here-Oh-Right-We-Live-But-To-Die-So-That-Your-Rage-Might-Flourish ladies. You all know exactly who I’m talking about with all of these. I bet a rolodex of characters is spinning in your heads for each of those types.

But at least I die horribly, right? (The image title

But at least I die horribly, right?
(The image title, “one crazy woman,” was what this still from Transporter 2 downloaded as. I left it alone for reference and interest.)

So, sure, I’ll keep going. I’m interested in a couple of franchises and in the development of the genre as it careens here and there trying figure out what the hell it’s doing. I’ll be more critical of it more loudly, and if you don’t like it, blow it out your ear. There are still set pieces I like, car chases and explosions and gorgeous locales. But I’m not going to keep pretending, even for a minute, that these movies don’t have problems. Huge problems, and I don’t mean the laws of physics.

There’s a higher price for admission to every piece of media, when you’re not a white straight cis man. The price is not seeing yourself. The price is having to watch hackneyed, vicious portrayals of you and then having to defend why you didn’t absolutely love everything about said portrayal. If you can’t really accept that, we can’t really have a conversation. I’m not annoyed at you in particular for it, and I don’t need you to defend it to me. I already enjoy these movies enough to keep watching. But being entertained, even while I’m erased, isn’t a band-aid over the way they hurt me, and I’m not going to slap it on any more.

Addiction, loss, and what he wore.

There’s this weird movie I watched once. I think my mother got it from Netflix back when you actually got DVDs in the mail. It’s called Next Stop Wonderland and it’s an odd. cross-class love story between a woman who does something office-like, and a man who works at an aquarium. The two best things about the movie are a subplot about a puffer fish and the woman’s ex-boyfriend, a Green Peace activist and later stock broker played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

That’s the only movie I have ever seen him in.  He’s dead now, apparently of a drug overdose. He was 46. Another hole left by addiction. A rip in the lining, and lives fall through.

Craig Ferguson, in an amazing monologue about his history with alcohol, has said that he was a sick man self-medicating with alcohol, and that on one occasion it saved his life. Watch it here. It’s worth it. Really. Twelve of the most important minutes you will ever spend on YouTube, I swear.

We all lose when a man dies alone from something as avoidable as an overdose. We all lose when kids have their lives wrecked by the same chemicals they are using to make it livable inside their own heads, whatever the reasons are. The world gets dimmer every time another person’s light goes out.

Addiction is not a choice. It is a genetic mental condition. Treating it as such would materially change the way the medical and judicial establishments handle people who are suffering from it, and that would be an amazing thing, it would change so much for the better and save so many lives. The culture of drug availability and addiction in Hollywood is shameful, and I hope this draws some attention to it. If that life asks so much of these people that they need to turn to drugs in order to survive it, then maybe that life needs to be examined and modified, because it’s exploitative and wrong to treat people in ways you’re not allowed to treat racehorses.

But there is another side to this. A very difficult side, and one that seems to be very unpopular at the moment. From the same Craig Ferguson monologue:

“You have to be responsible for your actions, sick or well. You have to be responsible. We’re all accountable. You have to be…it’s your responsibility to deal with the condition you have, in whatever way you can.”

People reacting from addiction are still responsible for what they do. The emotions those actions inspire are real. Gaps and heartache and anger and fear, and addiction is an evil, frightening thing to have in one’s brain. It is a tragic, horrible thing that Philip Seymour Hoffman died, and at the same time I am angry at him for dying like that. It’s anger borne of helplessness and heavily impacted by grief for what addiction did to someone in my family, and I won’t apologize for it.

I wish he had remembered that he wasn’t, didn’t need to be, alone, that it wasn’t hopeless. That there was more love to have and more movies to make, or maybe he could have gone and been an elk rancher, or a batik dyer, or a world class hair stylist. Because he wasn’t done. Because he lost his life, and we all lose every day, in millions of ways because of addiction, and it’s not impossible to get through it and live in vigilance against it. It really isn’t impossible, and nothing has to end that way. There is more waiting on the other side.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mech

I loved Pacific Rim. Let’s just be clear about this. I loved it. When the end credits started, I was disappointed. That’s a feeling I only get at the movies very rarely. The last time I was so inspired by a movie, so drawn into the world presented onscreen, was by Lord of the Rings.

There are some parallels. Pacific Rim, like Lord of the Rings, posits a visually coherent world, with internally consistent assumptions and rules. Every frame of the movie does something to further the action. Every shot, far more than every line of dialogue, tells the story. I could have watched the movie with the sound turned off and still been able to tell you exactly what was going on. This is why we go to the movies, yes? To see things we otherwise wouldn’t be able to see?

A couple of people I talked to about Pacific Rim mentioned how “fanservice-y” it is. This property is pretty much brand spankin’ new. It had fans to service? This movie isn’t “fanservice-y,” it’s entertaining. Have we become so jaded by the semi-passable dreck masquerading as the movies that we are actually inured to having a good time while watching one? This movie has everything! There are gigantic robots! Huge monsters! Strong women! Beautiful men! (If you think those two should be reversed, I don’t want to hear about it.) The score is like eating how your favorite flavor of ice cream sounds! Every character is well-drawn. All the acting is good. The visual effects are utterly believable* and very exciting.

*I say “believable” in the sense that if you’re going to have giant bipedal robots fighting huge sea-going monsters, this looks like how they’d fight. There is nothing believable about the physics of this movie. I’m not sure Pacific Rim has heard of physics. Except gravity. Maybe. Context is everything, where physics is concerned, is how I believe Pacific Rim feels about the whole thing.

But back to my more salient point about entertainment and the movies. We’ve been overwhelmed by underwhelming translations of worn out IPs. Movie after movie in the same franchises lower our expectations because we have the memories of better films to sustain us through the dark times. When liking something becomes a commitment instead of a diversion, it’s easy to sink into your squeaky seat and just let the movie wash over you. You know exactly what you’re going to get. I haven’t been excited or scared or surprised by, say, any of the Marvel movies in ages. (Unless you count how shocked and horrified I was by the emasculation of Wolverine in his latest outing, but that’s a blog for another day.) They just keep coming, and we just keep going.

Pacific Rim reminded me why I go to the movies in the first place. For the delight of finding something immersive, beautiful and a little scary, that I can imagine myself into. I both hope there’s a sequel and hope there isn’t.

Does the soda ban really suck?

So, I might not have mentioned this before, but I live in New York City. It’s a fine place, with many attractive features. It does have its drawbacks, though. Our current mayor is a condescending, if hilarious, weenie. One of the things he’s decided to do, like all Jewish grandparents, is pay attention to what we eat. In a striking blow against stereotype, however, he is very concerned about how much we’re eating, rather than how little.

A ban on selling sodas in quantities greater than sixteen ounces, spearheaded by the mayor, was passed today. It will take effect in six months unless struck down by a judge. Since its existence was announced, a ton of people have become very angry about this. VERY angry. Their personal liberties! Their right to freedom of expression, as measured in beverage size! Their freedoms of choice! New York City is turning into Soviet Russia!

Full story on NYTimes.com here.

Now, bear with me. Technically, this is not a ban on buying soda in quantities greater than 16 ounces in certain outlets. It is a ban on selling soda in quantities greater than 16 ounces in certain outlets. (Specifically movie theaters and restaurants.) If there is a fight here, it is between city government and the outlets that sell beverages. But no. The public has been reeled in by a massive protest led by an industry-financed organization called “New Yorkers for Beverage Choices.” There are so many cognitive dissonances at play here, it’s insane.

(Beverage choice is, of course, a highly important part of any trip to a movie theater. “What kind of fake flavoring am I interested in? Not-at-all-like-an-orange-Fanta? Has-never-been-near-a-lemon-or-a-lime-Sprite? What-the-hell-is-this-shit-Dr. Pepper? Is-only-that-color-because-of-generations-of-pollution-Mountain Dew? How about the classic We-don’t-even-pretend-this-ever-tasted-natural-Coca-Cola?”)

From SugarStacks.com

Consumers have always had to operate within the limits that vendors set for them. Vendors in the US have steadily increased portion sizes for years because it boosts revenue, and we are all trained to be obsessed with our culture of choice, with having it our way, with the idea that what we buy is linked to our personal freedoms in some fashion. This is a calculated effort by the vendors who want to sell us things. They’re not giving us choices out of the goodness of their hearts, or because they respect us. They give us choices because the more options we have for what to buy, the more they make. If we don’t want the huge soda, maybe we’ll let ourselves have a smaller one. If we don’t want this piece of plastic crap made in a sweatshop overseas, maybe we’ll want that one. If we have the illusion of control, as measured in options, they will make more money. But the real beauty of this scheme is that we’re so programmed to think that these vendors are on our side, we’ll go to bat for them even when what they want is demonstrably against our better interests. They make their fights our fights, and oh, do we fight them.

This is a perfect example. The restriction would prevent the movie theater from selling you the huge jug of high fructose corn syrup and phosphoric acid at an astronomical markup. The movie theater does not want to do this, because they charge you several dollars more for the jug of soda bigger than your head than they do for the smaller jug, even though the cost increase on the huge jug is pennies, or fractions of pennies, per unit sold. So, seeing that source of revenue decline, they spring into action! Suddenly this is about CHOICE. PERSONAL FREEDOM. APPLE PIE AND THE AMERICAN WAY. THE COMMIES ARE COMING. Except…

Nothing is actually happening to us that we’re going to notice, in the long run. We will quickly get used to the smaller portions. Perhaps we will discover that the two quarts of soda, or even the quart of soda, per person was not really necessary to get us through sitting still for two hours in a movie theater. Maybe we’ll think back and realize we really used to feel gross after the movies. That maybe the sheer quantity of high fructose corn syrup and additives was masking how icky it tasted. Or maybe we’ll really, really miss it, and elect our next mayor based on his very important stance on the beverage-size question. (“Please, sir, may we have some more?”) I don’t know. But I do know that this overreaction is a manipulation by corporations who do not care, based on a mindset that we have been packaged and sold at great cost to our total well-being.

I don’t believe we’re staring down both barrels of a “First they came for the additive-laden, demonstrably unhealthy liquids, and I said nothing” situation. But what I don’t believe even more is that we’re all getting up in arms about large corporations being forced to sell us drinkable chemicals at alarming prices in smaller quantities than they did before. They have so thoroughly taken over the debate over what is right and good in this country it’s really no surprise to me that as a nation we’re overweight, unhealthy, and miserable.

A hundred years ago we needed the Progressives to mandate air shafts in tenement buildings and factory labor laws so that unscrupulous rich people would be forced to stop abusing those who could not protect themselves. Corporations have even fewer scruples than landlords and factory owners did a hundred years ago. And somebody has to make laws restricting how they may or may not fuck us over. Despite the propaganda, that really does have to be the government, as the government’s purpose is to make laws for the benefit of the citizenry.

Argue all you want about whether this ban is going to actually reduce obesity, as our condescending weenie of a mayor would have us believe. I don’t know, one way or another. Maybe the whole thing could have been avoided if Bloomberg had started out banning sodas larger than 32 ounces. Maybe we all would have been reasonable enough to say “Why yes, I don’t need to drink more than a quart of liquid! A cup of soda only as big, not bigger than, my head is quite enough, thank you!” I know. I’m a hopeless idealist.

But people should stop flocking to the sides of corporations against the government without actually thinking about why the government might want to curtail certain actions of corporations as being against the public good. Just accept as an article of faith that a large, money-making corporation is going to do all in its power to keep making money, at your expense, and you have no control. And they are NOT on your side. These are companies that have to be forced, by regulation, to notify us when children’s toys are found to contain known chemical toxins. (This might bring up the question of how the already known chemical toxins got to be in the children’s toys in the first place, but I digress.)

You have a greater degree of control over your elected officials. Keep that in mind when you go to the polls in November.

Happy Father’s Day

My father is an electrical engineer by training, a computer programmer by profession, and a seriously nerdy man the rest of the time. I mean it, he is the Uber-Geek, the King of the Wonks, the apogee of the odd. If you ask this man for the time, he may very well spend the next twenty minutes explaining how clocks work and segue neatly into a discussion of the adoption of the Julian calendar. It will be Interesting. You will be Informed. You will walk away saturated with facts and mildly dazed.

That, in a nutshell, is my childhood. Anything I wanted to know about, I asked Dad. He read books about longitude, (that’s where the clock info came from) about pencils, about screwdrivers. Walking the dogs late at night, he would point the stars and the planets out to me. I asked him questions about anatomy, submarines, space, nuclear reactors, Batman. He answered them all.

He is a font of information, and as he will be the first to tell you, anything he doesn’t know he will cheerfully make up. (I hasten to add, his guesses are very educated.) Dad has weaponized these tendencies in recent years with the acquisition of an iPad, with which he is able to become an instant expert on anything at all.

As I’ve gotten older, my questions have become more complicated. I want to know how the heart works, but in a less practical, more philosophical sense.  Even my dad doesn’t pretend to have the answers to those. It’s been scary, growing up past the point where Daddy could tell me how everything worked. Also, realizing that I know more about poetry, art history, and the publishing industry than he does was something of a shock. (An embarrassingly recent shock, at that.)

My father isn’t perfect, obviously. He’s rough around the edges. We all are. But he has the best heart. He would drive anywhere for me, for one of my friends, for our family. I have always known that he loves me.

When I was little, he read me books at bedtime. He read me the first three Dragonriders of Pern books, he read me the Narnia books, he read me Sherlock Holmes stories, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Restaurant at the End of the Universe. He read me Chapter 7 of The Once and Future King approximately six hundred times. (I loved Chapter 7 the best.) During a few very memorable, very special months, he read Lord of the Rings out loud to my mother and me. Gandalf will always sound like my father, no matter how many times I watch the movies.

He would discuss the finer points of steam trains with me for hours, courtesy of my sincere love for Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends. The Way Things Work and Stephen Biesty’s Cross-Sections were as familiar and comforting bedtime-reading as those illustrated books retelling Disney movies. My dad knew things, and still does. He played Myst and Riven with me sitting on his lap. He played submarine commander simulator games with me hanging out over his shoulder, offering “helpful” suggestions like “Ping them!” Yes, give away your position to the enemy! I knew exactly what I was doing.

A lot of my life has been like that. I know exactly what I’m doing, and Dad just lets it ride. He knows that I’m going to make mistakes, no matter how much he’d like to shield me from them. So I’ll make them, and I’ll recover, smarter and stronger than before, because that’s who he trusts me to be.

When I was 13, we started going to the movies. Throughout high school, I think we saw every silly action movie and superhero flick that Hollywood could throw up onto the big screen. I don’t think I can put into words what that did. Maybe it’s a post for another day. But where so many girls I knew found their relationships with their fathers put under stress by adolescence and impending maturity, I went to the movies with my dad, and we talked in the car each way, and we sang songs. And while some things change, some things are always going to stay the same. He’s still my favorite date. I’m still his little girl. I’m just a young, independent woman at the same time. Because that’s who he trusts me to be.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad. We have tickets to the midnight show of The Dark Knight Rises. I’ll even buy the popcorn.

Total Eclipse of Some Vampires

Life is full of surprises. Some are pleasant, like finding forty dollars in the pocket of the jeans you’re about to wash. (Hey! Free money!) Some are unpleasant, like discovering that the spider you killed in your bedroom yesterday morning had friends in your closet. (Eek! Free spiders!) The discoveries that fall in the middle of this spectrum are the most interesting, and I had one of those today.

I like the latest Twilight movie.

Before you start either throwing rotten vegetables or cheering, please note: I haven’t read the books, and I won’t. I have quite enough to read, (and I will blog about that someday, promise) and I want to see how the rest of the movies scan. I didn’t go into the theatre with a good handle on the source material, and it probably contributed to my enjoyment of the film. Characters came and went, and other people in the audience gasped or cheered or crooned, but I just carried on giggling to myself.

Remember the scene at the beginning of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl when we see Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley interact, and she sweeps past him in a huff because he is so goddamn polite to her, calling her “Miss Swann” all the time, when all she wants is to have her swash buckled? And he stands in the doorway, moonstruck cows in his eyes, and the entire audience breathed, as one, “Elizabeth,” about two seconds of close-up before Orlando Bloom breathed, “Elizabeth”? Well, this entire movie was a lot like that.

What is it about girls surnamed Swan, anyway?

Back to my comparison. That interchange between Will and Elizabeth handily describes the interaction between Edward and Bella. Bella wants her swash buckled, and Edward wants to keep her on that shiny pedestal for just a little bit longer, because he wants to protect her soul or some rot. That was the only thing that made me feel the hot breath of religious values breathing down my neck, for the record, and it managed to be both confusing and completely unnecessary. These vampires don’t seem all that concerned with their immortal souls. (At least, not as concerned as they are with their hair.) Other than that, the scene is actually touching. Edward describes what their relationship would have been like when he was a young man, a hundred years ago, and tells her how much he wants that, because it was “less complicated.” Well, sure, relationships are way less complicated when your girlfriend has no political or economic power, but I’m going to ignore that sidebar.

He follows that explanation up by proposing to her. It’s a romantic proposal, and just one of the many times in the movie that I felt very sorry for Edward. Bella looked at the engagement ring with something akin to vexed horror in her eyes, as if he had presented her a box with a dead rat in it. Maybe that was just because it is the ugliest ring in the history of bad jewelry design, but I doubt it. Poor Edward. He manages to be both one of the deepest, and one of the least necessary, characters in the movie. This struck me as odd, considering his cult status.

He is, unfortunately and undeniably, doing it to himself. Bella wants sex. Lots of it. I got the feeling that this young lady spends a lot of quality time with her hand-held shower head, if you know what I mean. (I bet you do.) And her frigid boytoy is too invested in his idealized notions of the past and the future to give her what she wants. No wonder she’s frustrated. Enter Jacob. Not literally, because that would be wrong, but yowza!

Edward pales (haha!) in comparison with Jacob, this fleshliest and bloodliest of werewolves, who has more abs than he will need in a lifetime. Even more attractively, he possesses the ability (probably a side effect of his shape-shifting) to sincerely apologize. He does stupid stuff, and then deeply regrets it, and then is able to put his deep regret into words, with accompanying gestures and facial expressions. He has one of the two senses of humor this movie was allotted, and is only occasionally overweening, arrogant, and officious. As opposed to Edward, who is overweening, arrogant, and officious all the time, with a side order of insecurity.

A competition between two men in which the winner is the one who treats the heroine like a piece of really stupid furniture less of the time is obviously deeply flawed. But I couldn’t help noticing that Jacob seemed happier to just carry Bella around the woods having a conversation, than Edward was to be snuggled up in bed with her. Bella, for her part, was much more animated around Jacob, and their Big Kiss practically melted the film. Hell, him snuggling her in a snowstorm was hotter than Edward’s chaste snogs and pleas for marriage. Though maybe that was his shoulders getting to me. Have I mentioned that Taylor Lautner is a sexy, sexy beast? No pun intended.

Most of the time, Bella seems to barely tolerate Edward, and tolerate Jacob with only slightly better humor. (She also can’t seem to close her mouth, and she should probably get that looked at. I’m assuming, for the sake of argument, that there are orthodontists in Forks.) She behaves like a girl who knows she’s going to be leaving town at the end of the summer, and will never have to deal with either of them again. She treats them both pretty badly, but in ways that feel emotionally honest, because she does seem to be caught between them. I got the feeling that if she could swing it, she would happily be the cheese in a paranormal sandwich. If you know what I mean. (I bet you do.) Someone needs to give this girl the Anita Blake series.

I do have to feel for Edward, though. He’s a sweet guy, at non-beating heart. His perfect love is lusting after a werewolf, whom she also loves, whom he says that he could like, if it weren’t for the whole vampire/werewolf racial struggles, and the werewolf being after his girl. (Someone should give him the Anita Blake series. You can just all get along! Naked, even!) His perfect love also cheats on him, though it’s tame and for a good cause, (“Kiss me! Don’t get yourself killed!”) and generally has a personality, which he seems to view as something of a tick in the “con” column, given how much trouble it’s gotten her into. He is tormented and insecure and a dish, and she’s having none of it. Stupid werewolves. With their stupid body heat.

You would not believe how big a deal being exothermic is in this movie. Body heat, blood, the “Change,” territory, emotions, truck parts, all of these things act as metaphorical stand-ins for sex. Edward taking the distributor cap off Bella’s engine is a big deal, because it prevents her from seeing Jacob, if you know what the movie means. And at that point, you really do. This coyness on the part of the film is almost endearing, because Bella puts sex right out in the open. She manages to have decently forthright conversations about wanting each the furball or the iceball, or not, wanting sex or not, and why, and when.

To her endless credit, Bella has only so much patience for the rivalry between Edward and Jacob, or for their individually bone-headed shenanigans. I get the feeling she’d be more forgiving if there were boner shenanigans going on, wound up like a rubber band-powered airplane ready for lift-off as she is. But, it is not to be. She takes the initiative with Edward when she wants sex, and punches Jacob in the face when he kisses her without her permission. (“Acto gammat!” says Bella’s fist.) Both of these enterprises fail, in their own ways, (Edward refuses to put out, and she sprains her wrist on Jacob’s face) but there is potential in the way she handles herself. There are fewer instances of creepy stalker abusive behavior from either Edward or Jacob than I have been led to believe are in the prior books/movies, or even the book version of Eclipse, for which I am truly grateful. I did think that in the few moments where that behavior cropped up, the actors tried to gloss over it as best they could. They seemed a little embarrassed by it, and all those moments fell utterly flat. (“I trust you completely; it’s him I don’t trust,” Edward says, right out of the jerky boyfriend handbook. At that point, Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart could be seen visibly shuddering.)

There are other nice things to say about the movie, about how her father (the other sense of humor) is a font of genuinely caring paternal concern, how the secondary vampires and werewolves are attractive and interesting. There are less nice things to say, too, about how the major “plot” is full of fang holes, and the emotional conflicts are as real as they can be in a series that depends on willing suspension of disbelief so strong you could make a bridge out of it. Forks, Washington, is scenic and heavily pine-infested, and skinny jeans only look good on Audrey Hepburn. The sexual politics and emotional entanglements in the main triangle were the best part of this movie, but I do not know what Bella sees in Edward.

Maybe in the books something else exists between them that transcends little things like having no chemistry, maybe the first two movies set the heavily romantic stage for this period of flux. (though I have it on good authority that Jacob is pretty much the only available snoggee for much of New Moon.) But from my canon-ignorant point of view,  Bella, despite the script’s best efforts, seems to have outgrown Edward’s chivalric worship, and wants to screw Jacob senseless up against a tree.

This movie is pure, undiluted escapism, both visually and emotionally. Who wouldn’t want hot supernatural men desperate for your love and attention? Who would die for you? Kill for you? Keep you warm in a snowstorm? Defy their entire societies for you?

Ahem. I seem to be approaching rubber band-powered airplane territory. In the immortal words of Jayne Cobb, “I’ll be in my bunk.”

I enjoyed all of that hormonal angst, and the relationships were honestly acted out. The CGI was fantastic, the werewolves were breathtaking in their detail and expressions. But what made this movie for me, and probably for the millions of women, of all ages, who are absolutely enthralled, was the underlying, bittersweet memory of being eighteen and convinced that you knew what you want. Your world living and breathing and dying with the one you love so much it hurts. The utter conviction that love can be quantified and qualified. That emotions are complicated, but that they can be figured out. Bittersweet, like I said. And I’m only four years out from being there.

P.S. The trailers were fantastic. Easy A, RED, Harry Potter and the Long Camping Trip, it was fantastic, I tell you. I can’t wait.