John Carter of Mars and Everything that’s Wrong with Sci-Fi Movies

Before we beginning, a preface: I updated my Seattle blog post with two pictures, so you should check that out.

A few days ago, Partner decided we should watch a movie he had already seen, the epic flop that is John Carter of Mars.

Based on a series of books by the Guy Who Wrote Tarzan, the John Carter books tell the story of American Civil War veteran John Carter who is beamed up to mars via a Deus ex Machina and proves that white men really can jump! He also marries a martian princess and has assorted dealings with the Red Men, the Black Men, the Yellow Men, and the Green Men (and that thralls or thanes or thalmars or something that that begins with a Th- sound but damned if I’m going to research this post!). I have never read the books, though partner has. I asked if the skin color thing was intended as a commentary on US race relations to which he said “well they all look the same, except for their skin color… and the green men have tusks and four arms.” Take from that what you will, dear reader.

In the movie, we have the Green Men (possibly they are the ones with the Th- name?), the Red Men (Tan white people with red ‘tattoos’ that look like bad spray-tan abs.) And the bald pasty white dudes who apparently have no women and are supposed to wear blonde wigs to hide their bald shame. They can also shapeshift and look good in blue and have what I think are early versions of the Martian Iphone.

Ok so this is already confusing. I caved and went to Wikipedia. The Green Men are Thark, and the pasty blue-robed dudes are Therns. So I was write about the Th thing.

Partner is a big fan of the books, but that sorta pulpy, serialized sci-fi/fantasy stuff are really his cup of tea. I’m not opposed to reading the books, I might be able to enjoy them, I don’t actually know. I have recently become really turned off by the idea of series, I think I’ve just read too many and have come to really, truly appreciate a stand-alone novel, which is not to discount well written series or the people who read and write them. I just need some detox time, though it has cut a lot of sci-fi and fantasy from my literary diet.

I may be unfamiliar with the intricacies of the John Carter novels, but I am not uninitiated into the world of sci-fi. It’s by no means my favorite genre, but some of my favorite authors (J.G. Ballard and Richard Matheson) spend a fair amount of time in the sci-fi pool.

Back to Carter. Partner actually enjoys this movie, as an adaptation (though he did complain a lot about inconsistencies, which is where I got all my John Carter book knowledge) and thinks that it is a good movie. I think it is a thoroughly mediocre movie that had some potential, but manages to sum up a lot of things I hate about sci-fi movies in general and adaptations in particular. Both of us agree that it didn’t deserve all the hate that it got. I was going to put a jab at Twilight in here, but it just felt too cheap.

Sci-fi (and fantasy too) are at their strongest when they treat the world they are in as a fully-fleshed out character. Even in Urban Fantasy, or Sci-Fi set on Earth, things are different from how they really are, and that has to be established in some way. Sci-Fi TV shows have the chance to explore these intricacies over long story arcs, dropping bits of information when it’s relevant. Look at Firefly; the pilot episode isn’t a giant info dump explaining everything about the world dour characters live in, but it does start give us vital information (Mal and Zoe were on the losing side of a war, Alliance vs Independence, a bit about the legal system the Tam’s are evading, Reavers) and then as things continue we’re introduced to ideas like ‘terraforming,’ learn more about the cultural norms of the world, the beliefs of the people, etc. Questions are left unanswered, yes, but you don’t even need a long spread of time to reveal things about the world. Ballard does this excellently in his short stories, his narrators (when they are in the know and not exploring with the reader) drop facts in a short, matter-of-fact fashion that works well. Everyone looking to write anything sci-fi should look to Ballard’s work as inspiration (and anyone wanting to write the bizzarest book of all time can look to Crash for inspiration)

In the John Carter books, it sounds like the world building is done at least adequately. I don’t see how Partner could have made some of the comments and comparisons he did if Burrough’s Barsoom was half-baked.

The Mars of the movie is, however, very half-baked. I felt like I knew nothing about it, aside from the three groups of people not liking each other, but the red men were doing a bunch of infighting? Everyone learns to speak the same language by  drinking Babelfish juice (ahh Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, now that’s my kind of sci-fi). The supposed big issue in the movie is that Deja, Cleavage Princess of Mars, has discovered something called the 9th ray, which the Therns have dibs on, because it is blue, like their robes. They are SO VERY MAD that they decide the red dude they’re controlling has to marry Deja and then KILL HER VERY DEAD so that she cannot use the 9th ray! This plot line is So Very Important, that it’s discussed only once in passing after the movies mid-point, and by the time Taylor Kitsch swings in for his epic shirtless fight scene it has been completely dropped. Good writing there, movie!

The other huge problem is that there is no characterization, for anyone. Maybe some of the Tharks, but everyone else is just a dick because they can be, and Deja is smart and princess, so that’s characterization, and John Carter is a good fighter and he’s tough and crafty and apparently we’re supposed to be sympathetic to him because his wife and child died, and they try to make that a dilemma, except that he forgets about all of them by the time he sees Deja’s cleavage. Partner says there are no wife and child in the books, so really putting them in the movie, where they don’t even get two minutes of screen time and are never directly talked about, means absolutely nothing. The things I can tell you about these characters are so very surface and cliche, they lack even an ounce of depth.

John Carter is an action movie in space. If you want to take it as a mindless, explodey, visually nifty movie, it does work. If you want an illogical action movie, it doe work. It’s when you want a piece of science fiction that the movie doesn’t work. Cut Carter’s half-assed back story and have him simply be a jaded war veteran, make it less about fights and more about a fish out of water trying to figure out what’s going on. Hell, make it Dune (the book not the movie). The real shame is that the minds behind this movie seemed so passionate about the source material in the special features interview. None of that passion translates to the screen (it’s very similar to Troy in that aspect… the source material is there basically just to name plot, setting, and characters and inform nothing else).

It’s not a good movie, and I’m not sure how it got so bungled, but I want everyone interested in science fiction to watch it, examine it, and then use it as a “what not to do” guide.

Irreverent Reviews: Seattle

Hilarious story before we begin: This one time, I tried to clean out my drafts, and deleted all my blog posts! Then some of them didn’t get restored. Hilarious!! So glad I started this blog to prove my internet competency.

Now, onto the meat. Partner and I spent a long weekend in Seattle, courtesy of my parents (yay Christmas!).

So how does one review a city? Well, I imagine it to be pretty easy. I’m just going to tell you the awesome things we did and if I think they’re awesome enough for you to also do!

For starters, our lodgings: We stayed at Hotel 5 which we picked for it’s reasonable price and desirable proximity to things we wanted to do. The bed was a little hard, and the walls were way thin (no overheard sex noises, just inconsiderate hallway drunks), but it made a good home base, and had a really cool aesthetic. I’d recommend staying there, it’s close to the Seattle Center complex doohickey, and comfy enough for a short stay.

Blinds in Hotel 5

Then we had various activities! The reason for our trip was the King Tut exhibit at the Pacific Science Center. It was neat, and as an ancient Egypt nerd I was glad to see it. However it felt like the amount of Tut artifacts was small compared to the general Egypt artifacts. Still cool, still an awesome Christmas present, but hopefully someday I can get to Egypt and see it all (the exhibit did not have many of the most iconic pieces of King Tut’s burial collection, such as his death mask)! We also saw an IMAX movie about Pharaohs (narrated by Harrison Ford!) but did not explore the rest of the museum. The exhibit is only in Seattle(/the US) until Jan 6, 2013, so if you’re in the area before then you should check it out!

We also opted to be the quintessential Seattle tourist and go up the Space Needle. We did not opt to eat in the ridonkulously priced restaurant, and Partner said “no” to pictures with Santa. The sun peaked out briefly during our time up the tower, and the view was nifty. Our stay didn’t last very long, as we were both anxious to get off the tall building and be done with the elevator rides. I’m glad that I did it, as I am usually glad when I do that one quintessential touristy thing in a city, but it’s not a trip that needs repeating.

Space Needle from Glass Gardens

It is however a decent deal to package your Space Needle ticket with a ticket to the Chihuly Garden and Glass gallery thing. Despite not knowing what it’s exact title is, this is one place definitely worth spending the time and money to see, it is simply gorgeous. We went at the encouragement of my mother who wanted to live vicariously through us. I’m glad we took her advice. If you’re in the Seattle Center you really have no excuse NOT to check it out. Bundling with the Space Needle saves you $5.

Also of interest was the EMP Museum. We were there very close to closing, so perhaps the museum has more to offer than I saw, but it’s a small space with lots of potential. It really is a different kind of museum, and it was a lot of fun to see so much iconic music/pop culture stuff. The huge draw for Partner and myself was the Nirvana exhibit that is currently open. Really amazing place, with a great level of interaction. They also have a Dalek in their Sci-Fi collection. I’m a little torn of if this one is worth the money to go see. It was a lot of fun, we both enjoyed it, their gift shop has tons of awesome shit, but it felt like $17 for not that much. Gauge your personal interest in pop culture and then make your call, don’t just see it cuz it’s there.

Then we venture outside the Seattle Center (via monorail! A novelty, but very fun, and a very welcome break from walking in the cold) and went to the Seattle Aquarium. I am a person who is all about aquariums, so I will of course recommend everyone goes. Highlights included the GINORMOUS Pacific Octopus (so pretty!) the adorable puffins and sea otters, and the information about six-gill shark conservation. I had a blast, my favorite part of the trip! It’s also just across the street from the historic Pike Place Market, which is a really neat walkthrough, even if you’re not in the mood to shop.

This leads us to the final segment, where we talk about food.

We ate two breakfasts at Top Pot Doughnuts. These are the most delicious doughnuts I have ever had! Their flavors are amazing! I am so glad I don’t live near one, because I would be so very, very obese. Their shop is also really cool, two stories and lined with bookcases. I wish I’d had more time to just hang out there.

We also had breakfast at Max’s Cafe, attached to our hotel. Pro-tip: Get the Oregon Chai french toast. Fall in love. Listen to 90’s music (which I swear was the only thing I hear played the entire time we were in Seattle). Also, free coffee refills! Love it!

Our next set of restaurants were picked with the help of some Restaurant.com giftcards. All of these places were beyond phenomenal, small places that we never would have eaten at otherwise. They absolutely deserve your business, because they are tasty.

We had lunch one day at Laadla Cuisine of India. We both had the butter chicken for the main course, with cheesy naan and crab cakes. Partner also enjoyed some mango lemonade (I personally hate mangoes, so I wasn’t a fan). So much yum!

One of our dinners was at a place very close to our hotel called Acquabar. It is classified as a “gastropub” which is apparently a trendy thing, although the name is a serious turnoff. They had great mixed drinks (if a bit pricey in that area) and super delicious food. I got a large bowl of clams with some garlic bread, and it was amazing. It was also completely empty, which was enjoyable, although strange because it was so reasonably priced with such good food!

Our final dinner was at The Underground Asia, billed as an Asian Fusion bistro that seemed pretty traditional Asian, though it mixes all sorts of Asian cuisine. I had some amazing seafood pho, Partner had bulgogi (beef cooked in a particular Korean style, something we both enjoyed during my time in Korea), and together we shared crispy pork and shrimp egg rolls, fabulous edamame, and some super awesome gyoza. We also binged and got a super tasty spider roll, even though They also had a large selection of Japanese beers (Sapparo and Asahi being the prominent ones) and some of my old Korean standards: Max and Hite. This place doesn’t have their own webpage, but they’re at 88 Yesler Way. The food was plentiful and super amazing. Online reviews didn’t speak too highly of the service at this place, but there was nothing slow about ours.

Overall I found Seattle confusing and frustrating to navigate, but it’s a fun and tasty place to visit. With the exception of our food we stuck to the beaten tourist path, but it was still a great time, and we’d love to go back!

Poached Chicken, Drunken Broccoli

I’m going to share what I made for dinner tonight, because I’m sure you care. Also, it’s delicious, but more important, super easy.

Here’s what you need:

Chicken Breasts (I used boneless skinless Tyson pre-trimmed fingers)

Broccoli (I used two crowns)

Pasta (I used angel hair)

White wine, butter, and whatever herbs and spices you want (I used salt, pepper, herbs de provence, garlic powder, and olive oil, which I know is not technically a spice or herb).

Cut you chicken, put it in a saucepan, and boil til it’s not pink. I used Better Homes and Gardens as a guideline that I could in fact boil chicken to cook it. I followed the “cover with water and boil” part of the instructions and mostly skimmed. I put some salt, pepper, garlic powder, olive oil, and herbs de provence into the chicken water, to help with flavor.

Once that had boiled I added my broccoli pieces, white wine, butter, and some garlic powder into a big frying pan and sauteed them.

Then I added my angel hair pasta and more water to the chicken pot, boiled that, and cooked it for about 6 more minutes while the broccoli in the other pan got all tender.

When everything was a satisfactory degree of cooked I drained the water off the chicken/pasta and added the broccoli/wine/butter all together into the sauce pan, and mixed. It was a super pain to get out of the pot, but turned out really well. Partner thought the chicken was a little dry cuz of the wine, but it was moister than when I try to sautee it with the wine.

Measurement wise just add to taste/how many people you’re going to have eating. I was able to get some leftovers out of this meal, which is awesome because it means free lunch.

I’m Not a Girl Gamer (Yet!)

There are a lot of phrases I hate. Any that follow the sentence structure “I’m a blank that does blank, but I’m not a blank!” is guaranteed to drive me up a wall.

“I’m a girl and I play video games, but I’m not a gamer!”

In that same vein “I’m not like other girls, I play video games!” or anything that insinuates that you are a better, cooler, specialer person because you participate in the totally underground, secretive, subversive subculture that is video gaming. It’s like saying “I’m such a nerd, I’ve seen all the Star Wars movies!”

Newsflash: The people who have managed to live their lives without seeing Star Wars (especially those who are over twenty) are the rare magical creatures, not you. And honestly, the same thing goes for video games. I do not know a single person who has NEVER played a video game. I do know some (male and female) who don’t really enjoy it, and many who enjoy it but can’t afford consoles.

There seems to be this pervasive cultural idea about what video games girls play, and the idea that playing “boy games” like Halo is what makes you a true gamer. I don’t know how this came about. I was introduced to the “girl game” of Katamari by three male roommates, and to the male games of World of Warcraft and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Everyone I know has played a Lego game at least once (whenever I’m home I play Lego Indiana Jones with my brother).

Right now, I am commandeering my partner’s PS3 to play Skyrim. I’m behind the times, because I had to wait a year before I had access to the consul and actually could play it, but one excited Facebook status lead to a male friend messaging me saying “I didn’t know girls played Skyrim. I bet you’re playing as a cat person.”

Well I’m not a cat person, I’m a level eight Breton and I just killed my second dragon and I managed to make it Morthal and clean out a bunch of bandit dens without Gamer Boyfriend backseat driving. Even though necromancer’s killed my horse. My playing technique is what we have started calling “slash and burn,” Orcish War Axe  in one hand, magic flames in the other, but I’ve taken a liking to great swords even though I tend to just flail around and hit buttons when I’m fighting.

There’s a reason I don’t call myself a gamer, but roll my eyes when girls with video game collections also refuse the title. I’m new to this land, and my knowledge is gleaned from the internet. You know what first interested me in Skyrim? This Christwire article about the hidden homosexual agenda. Is it possible that when I was informed the game had been purchased I yelled into the phone “IMMA GIVE ALL THE SKYRIM JOBS?” and was asked to please never say that phrase again? Totally. Does my knowledge of Dragon Age consist entirely around the discussion of players being able to chose homosexual pairings for their partners? Yes. Is my biggest frustration with Demon’s Souls the confusing punctuation?  Maybe. Do I have any video game knowledge gleaned from actual playing experience? Yes. Necromancers will kill your horse if you leave it unattended and all those reloads you did to keep it from falling off a cliff will become meaningless. Your elf friend is not named ‘Falafel.’ Housecarls are really, really condescending.

I am just a visitor in a strange land, lots of girls aren’t. I know ladies who live to play Call of Duty. Some of the biggest, most serious gamers I know have vaginas. I’m not a girl gamer yet, because I’m new to town, and I don’t know that I will ever pass beyond a casual member of the community. Either way it’s fine, but I’m not going to pretend that I’m some special creature because I play slashy killy “guy games” and I’m not some rare gem of a woman for doing that. I also don’t feel the need to assert that I’m too cool for the gaming community, or insist that I’m still a viable lady-person and not just one of the guys. I own shoes that would make a stripper jealous, I play Skyrim, and Manbeast promises that soon he will let me try Dark/Demon’s Souls because he actually respects that I have learned and improved my playing. I guess I jumped in the deep end first, but that’s kinda how I do things, not because I’m special, but because I don’t think things through.

I’m in my penguin pajamas, I have a large glass of red wine, and I’m going to finish packing for a trip and then start my long weekend by lighting a den of vampires on fire. I’m a girl, and I play video games. I’m not a gamer yet, but I’m also not a mythical creature. Those frost trolls, on the other hand…